Since the mid-nineteenth century, generations of children and adults have associated the name Grimm with the enchanted world of the fairy tale. Collections of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are surpassed only by the Bible in volumes sold and breadth of influence throughout Germany and many other countries. Among the most popular of the Grimms’ tales are “The Frog King,” “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Bremen Town Musicians,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” Since fairy tales have been viewed primarily as children’s stories, many lovers of these tales are not aware that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were serious German scholars who devoted their lives to studying and preserving the language and lore of Germany, hoping to restore pride in their native folk culture.
Jacob and Wilhelm were born into a large middle-class family in their ancestral town of Hanau. Their harmonious and stable family life, Calvinist upbringing, and good schools prepared them for lives of arduous labor, unselfish collaboration, and public service. After their father’s sudden death in 1796, they worked especially hard at high school in Kassel and at the University of Marburg because they lacked the social advantages of wealthier students. Soon Jacob began supporting the family, while Wilhelm endured some years of ill health. They worked and lived together at school and throughout their lives, even after Wilhelm married a longtime family friend in 1825 and had three children.
Although the brothers followed their father’s example in studying law, by 1805 a law professor had influenced them to explore the roots of European law and society in ancient language, literature, and folklore. Romantic writers Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim encouraged the Grimms to help them collect folk literature. Then von Arnim urged them to publish their own folktales. Between 1812 and 1822, the Grimms produced three volumes of folktales and commentary,...
(The entire section is 833 words.)