Cinderella #296 What the Brothers Grimm Really Thought About CharlesPerrault
|The "fairy tale wife", Dorothea Grimm,|
Once upon a time, in the Holy Roman Empire, there lived two little boys. Their names were Jacob and Wilhelm. Life was wonderful for them! They lived in a grand house, with servants, and their mama and their papa and their baby brothers Carl, Ferdinand, and Ludwig. Their father was the Anteman, or magistrate, of the town of Steinau, which meant that the family lived in the spacious residence assigned him. They boys "were proud of their father, with his pigtail and his uniform. Herr Grimm wore a blue frock coat with gold epaulettes and a red velvet collar over leather pants tucked into tall boots with silver spurs." But tragedy struck their lives, when Jacob was eleven and Wilhelm just ten, and their father suddenly died. Nothing was worse than losing him, but having to move out of their home was terrible indeed. They were forced to survive on a tiny pension which their mother had because of brief government employment. Gifts from an aunt kept them clothed. Jacob and Wilhelm were sent away to school, where they were bitterly homesick. They kept each other's spirits up by telling each other stories. Their favorites were those that their mother used to tell them at night, and the cook when they visited the kitchen, and their governess when she wanted to behave. When they were grown up men, Jacob and Wilhelm began a search for as many of these old wives' tales and fairy tales as they could find. During their adolescence, wars in the area broke out several times. The French Revolution, Napoleon's defeat, and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire (united as Germany in 1806) were live action events for the brothers. Childhood poverty and loneliness, and the experience of being trapped behind combat lines, or prevented from returning home because of the dangers of war, marked them deeply. Years later, when they encountered a story called Cinderella, composed in French by a man named Charles Perrault, they did not like it. In the first place, they believed that "there is really nothing more difficult than using the French language to tell children's stories." Without being pretentious, that is. They knew that fairy tales are from the salt of the earth, and cannot be stripped of trauma and violence without also being stripped of their true nature. The tale as they had grown up hearing it involved knives, bloody feet, and brutal family relations. No fairy godmother aids the girl, but the spirit of her own mother, in the form of a bird. This little dove builds its nest on the tree growing on the girl's mother's grave, and throws down whatever the girl requests. Seeking an accurate source for this tale, they were fortunate to meet with "a peasant woman named Dorothea Veighman, who lived on the edge of Kassel, the brother's hometown. It was she who told them the tale of Ashenpüttle, as well as thirty four others.
"Oh, you tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds under heaven, come and help me pick The good ones for the little pot, the bad ones for your little crop."
From: Hettinga, D.R. (2001) The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy. and Zipes, J. (2003)The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.