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Wilhelm (Carl) Grimm (1786-1859) - see also Jacob Grimm


Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm – famous for their classical collections of folk songs and folktales, especially for Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales); generally known as Grimm's Fairy Tales. Stories such as 'Snow White' and 'Sleeping Beauty' have been retold countless times, but they were first written down by the Brothers Grimm. In their collaboration Wilhelm, who was the more imaginative and literary of the two, selected and arranged the stories, while Jacob was responsible for the scholarly work.

"'Silly goose,' said the old woman. 'The door is big enough; just look, I can get in myself!' and she crept up and thrust her head into the oven. Then Gretel gave her a push that drove her far into it, and shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. Oh! then she began to howl quite horribly, but Gretel ran away and the godless witch was miserably burnt to death." (from 'Hansel and Gretel')

Wilhelm Grimm was born in Hanau. His father, who was educated in law and served as a town clerk, died when Wilhelm was young. His mother Dorothea struggled to pay the education of the children. With financial help of Dorothea's sister, Jacob and Wilhelm were sent to Kasel to attend the Lyzeum. Wilhelm always suffered from poor health, which made regular work difficult. He was was nonetheless more animated, jovial, and sociable than Jacob. After studying law at Marburg, he worked as a secretary at Kassel, where Jacob served as librarian. In 1812, the year their fairy tales were first published, the Grimms were surviving on a single meal a day. Between 1821 and 1822 the brothers raised extra money by collecting three volumes of folktales. With these publications they wanted to show, that Germans shared a similar culture and advocate the unification process of the small independent kingdoms and principalities.

Altogether some 40 persons delivered tales to the Grimms. Probably the German writer Clemens Bretano first awoke their interest in folk literature. Their first tales date from 1807. The first volume, which contained 86 items, was published by Georg Andreas Reimer at Berlin. The most important informants included Dorothea Viehmann, the daughter of an innkeeper, Johann Friedrich Krause, an old dragoon, and Marie Hassenpflug, a 20-year-old friend of their sister, Charlotte, from a well-bred, French-speaking family. Marie's stories blended motifs from the oral tradition and Perrault's Tales of My Mother Goose (1697). From Dorothea Viehmann the brothers got the story about 'Cinderella'.

In 1829 the brothers moved to Göttingen, Wilhelm becoming assistant librarian and Jacob librarian. In 1835 Wilhelm was appointed professor, but they were dismissed two years later for protesting against the abrogation of the Hannover constitution by King Ernest Augustus. In 1840 the brothers accepted an invitation from the king of Prussia, Frederick William IV, to go to Berlin. There, as members of the Royal Academy of Sciences, they lectured at the university. In 1841 they became professors at the University of Berlin, and worked with their most ambitious enterprise, the  Deutsches Wörterbuch, a large German dictionary. Its first volume came out in the 1850s. The work, 32 volumes, was finished in the 1960s.

The Grimms made major contributions in many fields, notably in the studies of heroic myth and the ancient religion and law. They worked very close, even after Wilhelm married in 1825 his childhood friend Dortchen Wild, who was a prominent source of fairy tales for their collection. Jacob remained unmarried. Wilhelm died of infection in Berlin on December 16, 1859, and Jacob four years later on September 20, 1863.

The Grimms came over a century after Madame d'Aulnoy and Charles Perrault, who between them first created and popularized the literary fairy tale. Grimms were more intent on capturing the genuine oral tradition – earlier Ludwig Tieck and Johann-Karl Musaeus relied more on the gothic tradition than folklore. In English Grimms' Tales are often referred as "fairytales", but only a few of them involve mythical creatures. The first English translation appeared anonymously in 1823, but it was the work of the London solicitor Edgar Taylor and his collaborator David Jardine. Noteworthy, this edition was illustrated by George Cruikshank; Jacob and Wilhelm themselves followed the example and encouraged their younger brother Ludwig Emil to illustrate the Kleine Ausgabe (1825). After its appearance, the Tales became to be regarded as a children's book.

Kinder- und Hausmärchen was originally published in two volumes (1812-1815). The final edition  – the last to appear during their life time – was published in 1857 and contained 211 tales; a further 28 had been dropped from earlier editions, making 239 in total. The Grimms wrote down most of the tales from oral narrations, collecting the material mainly from peasants in Hesse. The first edition included stories in 10 dialects as well as High German. Among the best-known stories are 'Hansel and Gretel,' 'Cinderella,' 'Rumpelstiltskin,' 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' and 'The Golden Goose.' The stories include magic, communication between animals and men, and moral values, teachings of social right and wrong. The term 'Hausmärchen' in the title refers to 'Hausmärlein,' a term created by Georg Rollenhagen in 1595; 'household tales' were meant to serve as a guide for Christian upbringing.

The brothers are generally treated as a team, though Jacob concentrated on linguistic studies and Wilhelm was primarily a literary scholar. Jacob wrote down most of the tales published in the first volume. From 1819 onward, Wilhelm supervised all subsequent editions on his own, because Jacob was repeatedly away on diplomatic missions. During the editing phase they constantly consulted each other.

The Grimms' were affected by the ideas of Enlightenment and the German Romanticism and its interest in mythology, folklore and dreams. In his masterly guide The March of the Literature (1938) the English writer Ford Madox Ford sees that their work was more than a mere reflection of German romanticism: "But the real apotheosis of this side of the Teutonic cosmos came into its own through the labors of the brothers Ludwig Karl, and Wilhelm Karl Grimm for whom the measure of our administration may well be marked by the fact that there is nothing in the world left to say about their collection of fairy tales. It is, on the whole, wrong to concede the brothers Grimm to the romantics. They belonged to the earth movement and are known wherever the sky covers the land. That is the real German Empire." Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm argued that folktales should be collected from oral sources, which aimed at genuine reproduction of the original story. Their method became model for other scholars. However, in practice the tales were modified.

In later editions of the fairytales Wilhelm's editing and literary aspiration were more prominent. He continued to reshape the tales up to the final edition of 1857 – he also removed any hint of sexual activity, such as the premarital couplings of Rapunzel and the prince who climbed into her tower. In 'The Frog Prince, or Iron-Henry' a beautiful princess loses her ball into a well. A frog promises to bring the ball back to her, if she loves the frog, lets it be her companion and play-fellow, and sleep in her bed. Actually the frog is a prince, bewitched by a wicked witch. In spite some changes, the cores of the stories were left untouched. The Grimm's tales are in fact much closer to genuine folk origins than Hans Christian Andersen's tales – he is considered the best-known tellers of fairy tales.

While collaborating with Jacob was Wilhelm's contribution to science is his collection Die deutsche Heldensage (The German Heroic Tale). In 1840 the Brothers Grimm began the Deutsches Wörterbuch, intended as a guide for the user of the written and spoken word as well as a scholarly reference work. Wilhelm's work proceeded to the letter D, Jacob lived to see the work proceed to the letter F.

Both brothers argued that folktales should be recorded and presented in print in a form as close as possible to the original mode. It also meant that some of the stories contained unpleasant details. Doves peck out the eyes of Cinderella's stepsisters, and in 'The Juniper Tree' a woman decapitates her stepson. A witch kills her own daughter in 'Darling Roland.' "These stories are suffused with the same purity that makes children so marvelous and blessed," wrote Wilhelm Grimm in the preface to the Nursery and Household Tales. In practice the brothers modified folktales in varying ways, sometimes even intensifying violent episodes. Especially references to sexuality embarrassed the Grimms'.

In 'The Snow White' the violence was toned down by later editions: at the end of the story the wicked Queen is forced to put on red-hot iron slippers and dance till she dies. The witch ends up in the oven and is baked alive In 'Hansel and Gretel.'"Oh, you dear children, who has brought you here? Do come in, and stay with me. No harm shall happen to you." (from 'Hansel and Gretel') Little red Riding Hood was turned In Nazi Germany into a symbol of the German people, saved from the evil Jewish wolf. In the 1970s the tales were scorned for promoting a sexists, authority-ridden world view. The tales were largely banned from the German nursery. However, the Grimm's world has been utilized by many modern fantasists and filmmakers, including Tanith Lee, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede, and the director Terry Gillam. The 200th anniversary of the publication of Die Kinder und Hausmärchen in Kassel in 2012 launched the 2013 celebrations of the brothers. 

For further reading: Grimm Brothers and the Germanic Past, ed. by Elmer H. Antonsen (1990); The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales by Maria M. Tatar (1990); The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, ed. by James M. McGlathery (1991); The Brothers Grimm and Their Critics by Christa Kamenetsky (1992); Grimms' Fairy Tales by James M. McGlathery (1993); The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales, ed. by Donald Haase (1993); The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy by Donald R. Hettinga (2001).  Herman Grimm (1828-1901), the second son of Wilhelm Grimm, professor of the history of modern art at University of Berlin (from 1873), essayist, whose style of controlled improvisation influenced deeply the development of the genre in Germany. Herman Grimm dedicated his first collection, Essays (1859), to Ralph Waldo Emerson. His works were rediscovered in the 1940s. Leading German Romantics: J.W. Goethe, Novalis, Friedrich Schiller. Note: In Finland Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884), who created the Finnish national epic Kalevala, collected the material - ballads, lyrical songs and incantations - from oral sources as the Grimms. William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) studied Irish legends and tales, which he published with George Russell and Douglas Hyde in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888). Film: The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), dir. by Henry Levin, George Pal, starring Laurence Harvey, Karl Boehm, Claire Bloom, Barbara Eden - an account of the lives of the brothers, supplemeted by three stories, "The Dancing Princess," "The Cobbler and the Elves," and "The Singing Bone." 

Selected works:

  • Altdänische heldenlieder, balladen und märchen, 1811
  • Die beiden ältesten deutschen Gedichte aus dem achten Jahrhundert: das Lied von Hildebrand und Hadubrand und das Weissenbrunner Gebet, 1812 (ed., with Jacob Grimm)
  • Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1812-15 (2nd. ed. 1819, 3rd. ed. 1837, 4th ed. 1840, 5th ed. 1843, 6th ed. 1850, 7th. ed. 1857)
    - German Popular Stories (translated by Edgar Taylor, illustrated by George Cruikshank, 2 vols., 1823-1826) / Household Tales (tr. 1853, illustrated by H. Wehnert) / Grimm's Fairy Tales (translated by H.B. Paull, 1868) / Household Tales (tr. 1884) / Household Stories (translated by Lucy Crane, 1886) / Household Fairy Tales (translated by Ella Bodley, 1890) / Tales (translated by Wanda Gág, 1936) / German Folk Tales (translated by Francis P. Magoun Jr. and Alexander H. Krappe, 1960) / Fairy Tales (translated by James Stern, 1972) / Grimm's Tales for Young and Old, 1977 (translated by Ralph Manheim, 1977) / Fairy Tales (translated by Jack Zipes, 1987) 
    - Koti-satuja lapsille ja nuorisolle (suom. J.A. Hahnsson, 1876) / Lasten- ja kotisatuja 1-2 (suom. Helmi Krohn, 1927) / Grimmin satuja (suom. 1930) / Grimmin satukirja (suom. Helena Anhava et al., 1962) / Grimmin satuja (suom. Aarno Peromies, 1973) / Grimmin sadut 1-3 (suom. ja toim. Raija Jänicke ja Oili Suominen, 1999
  • Altdeutsche Wälder, 1813-1816 (3 vols., ed., with Jacob Grimm)
  • Deutsche Sagen, 1816-1818 (with Jacob Grimm; 2 vols.)
    - The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm (translated by Donald Ward, 1981)
  • Über deutsche Runen, 1821
  • Die deutsche Heldensage, 1829 [The German Heroic Tale]
  • Altdeutsche Gespräche: Nachtrag, 1851
  • Deutsches Wörterbuch, 1852-1961 (with Jacob Grimm, 16 vols., 32 bound in pairs)
  • Zur Geschichte des Reims:Abhandlung der Berliner Akademie, 1852
  • Kleinere Schriften, 1881-1897 (4 vols. ed. G. Hinrichs)
  • Briefe der brüder Grimm, 1923 (ed. H. Gürtler)
  • Die schönsten Grimms Märchen, 1950 (ed. Gisela Fischer)
    - Tunnettuja Grimmin satuja (suom. Leena Niukkanen, 1979)
  • Die allerschönsten Märchen der Gebrüder Grimm, 2004 (illustrated by Bernhard Oberdieck)
    - Grimmin veljesten parhaat sadut (suom. Heli Venhola, 2008)

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