We are all familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel: little kids lost in the woods, witches with houses made of candy, trails of breadcrumbs. In fact, there have been many variations and adaptations since the first edition was published in 1812.
The story was first released along with other short stories as a part of Grimm’s fairy tales by Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, popularly known as the Grimm Brothers. They were German Scholars who were both obsessed with preserving German cultures and folklores.
At that time, the only way folklores were passed down was by telling them from generation to generation. The only problem was that, as time went on, people were beginning to lose interest in those stories. The two brothers in the 19th century went about in Germany to record such tales. One of those was the story of Hensel and Gretel which symbolized the great famine, when parents were rumored to have eaten their kids.
Wilhelm Carl Grimm was born in February 1786 and Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm was born on 4th January 1785. He is known as the discoverer of Grimm’s law of linguistics, the co-author of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie, and the editor of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. He was the elder of the Brothers Grimm.
Wilhelm and his brother Jacob were born in Hanau an ancient town in Germany but grew up in a neighboring town called Steinau. The brothers were roughly 10 and 11 years old when they lost their father in 1796.
They had four siblings and were born to a Dorothea Grimm née Zimmer, daughter of a Kassel city councilman and Philipp Wilhelm Grimm. Just like in most of their fairytales they are lived happily in a big house with servants and good food. But when Jacob was 11 years old the boys lost their father to pneumonia and Dorothea lost her husband. This plunged them in such abject poverty that they had to cut down drastically to make ends meet.
Grimm Brothers’ Education
They often had relied on charity from their relatives. After graduation from the Friedrichsgymnasium, the brothers attended the University of Marburg where they were met with such hostility and segregation due to their social standings. Things got so hard that they had to appeal to continue studying at the university. Later in life, they both admitted that all the discrimination was part of what fueled them to fight harder and become better.
Even though both graduated top of their class, things did not get better. When they graduated, Jacob got a job with Hessian War Commission but he could barely afford to feed his family of five and still had to take assistance from his aunt.
Tragedy struck that again in 1808 when their mother passed away. Jacob eventually secured a job as the librarian to the King of Westphalia. He, however, had to spend most of his earnings his younger’s brother school and Wilhelm’s medical bill. Wilhelm had poor health since when he was a child.
Eventually, Wilhelm secured a job with the library as well. But even as working-class citizens, they still had to deal with a lot of discrimination and got passed over for promotion on several occasions. It was while working at the library that they began collecting German and European folktales.
A Publishing Career
In 1812, they published their first volume of 86 folk tales, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, followed quickly by two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literary history. They went on to publish works about Danish and Irish folk tales and Norse mythology while continuing to edit the German folk tale collection. These works became so widely recognized that the brothers received honorary doctorates from universities in Marburg, Berlin, and Breslau (now Wrocław).
They eventually applied and got jobs at the University of Göttingen. So they relocated to Göttingen in the Kingdom of Hanover. Jacob was a professor while Wilhelm got his coveted head librarian position and also a professor.
After seven years, they lost their jobs. Eventually, they both moved to Berlin where they kept writing and editing until Wilhelm died of an infection in Berlin in 1859. Jacob mourned his brother greatly. He followed only 4 years later.
Despite career challenges and a difficult youth, the Grimm Brothers’ stories have affected countless generations of readers. Their folk tales are still just as popular today, confirming the importance of their goal in recording them. These traditional German stories can never be lost now.