Archive for The Brothers Grimm

The Dastardly (and Delicious) Spell of Struwwelpeter

Posted in Book Review, Illustration, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2009 by Liz Hager


Note: June 13 marked the 200th anniversary of author Heinrich Hoffman’s birth.


Struwwelpeter cover (courtesy Frederick Warne & Co, now Penguin).

In 1844, unable to find suitable instructional material for his young son, Heinrich Hoffman penned Struwwelpeter and presented it to the three year old as a Christmas gift.

In 1962, perhaps for the same reason, my grandmother gave my youngest brother, then five, the English edition of Struwwelpeter, also as a Christmas gift.

I was 9 at the time, dutifully trudging through rather bland books like Mary Poppins, while attempting more challenging reads like  The Phantom Tollbooth (this one with the interpretive help of my father). The Tollbooth notwithstanding (it was after all a fable), I took no interest Struwwelpeter at first. Wherever I was in the lexicon of children’s lit, I knew that I was beyond “fairy tales.”

Nevertheless, Struwwelpeter quietly and permanently cast its spell upon me.

Eventually, curiosity pushed me to purloin the book from my defenseless brother. (Dastardly fun!) The cover telegraphed that these were no garden-variety fairy tales.  Once inside, I honed in on the charming cartoon-like illustrations, which transported me to a era not altogether unfamiliar to me, surrounded as we were by items passed down through generations of family.

Cartoon depicting Heinrich Hoffmann’s jubilee celebration with caption “Papa, we congratulate you.”

The verses were another matter. They were dark, much darker than even the grimmest Grimm tale.  The stories may have started in a playful mode, but they invariably ended badly, as a child paid the Draconian consequences for disregarding parental advice.  Some of the outcomes were cruel, others gruesomely violent. Whatever the case, they were altogether unlike the tales of “normal” childhood that were being served up to me by mid-20th-century authors.  No, the Struwwelpeter stories were truly scary, because the things that happened to these children—e.g. severed fingers, dog bites, burning hair, wasting away, drowning—conceivably could befall a careless 20th-century child.

Below: “Cruel Frederick” from Struwwelpeter (courtesy Frederick Warne & Co, now Penguin). Click to enlarge images.


And yet, those über-didactic tales were fascinating. I not-so secretly laughed in the naughty antics of those children and the punishments that befell them. As the oldest child, I was adjusting to sharing the limelight with my closest sibling, yet another brother, and the first son of the family. Imagine my glee upon finding his eponymous story in the collection! For a moment, I reveled in the possibility that my brother Frederick might too someday be bitten by a dog and end up miserably in bed. That he too would be visited by a doctor bearing further unpleasantries—

The Doctor came, and shook his head,
And made a very great to-do,
And gives him nasty physic (i.e. medicine) too.



I’m guessing that I was not alone in my glee, that generations of children received their first lessons in Schadenfreude from the Struwwelpeter stories.


A 19th century “reward of merit” for a well-learned lesson. 

Are the tales sadistically cruel or humorously entertaining? On the one hand, Dr. Hoffmann earned a reputation as a caring and humane psychiatrist. Further, the German subtitle translates to “amusing stories and droll pictures,” indicating perhaps a more humorous intent. But 19th-century society possessed very different notions than we about childhood and child development;  children were considered little more than savage creatures, who required strict guidance in order to behave as adults. Few allowances were made for unruly behavior; beatings were acceptable and routine.  A particularly thorough discussion of the question appears in Barbara Smith Chalou’s—Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror.

In any case, the Germans were not alone in producing tales of horror—19th-century English and American children’s books often made use of violent cruelty. (See Original Poems for Infant Minds for particularly gruesome examples.) Further, Struwwelpeter‘s success has not been limited to Germany.  To date, some 30 million-plus copies of the book have been sold worldwide.  The book has inspired contemporary spin-offs—a “junk” opera (see clip below), an NPR show, Bob Shaake’s updated illustrated tale (link below) and even a parody,  Struwwelhitler (also below).

The charming Struwwelpeter illustrations will always inspire the better angels of my (aesthetic) nature. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether I’ve really left its verse-inspired Schadenfreude completely in my childhood. . .

Disclosure: I still have the purloined book. Just for the record, I’m never giving it back.

Wider Connections

Struwwelpeter (English)—Project Gutenberg version

Struwwelpeter Museum, Frankfort

Shockheaded Peter (The Junk Opera)

Above: Wyld Stallyon’s animation of Bob Staake’s Struwwelpeter (Tom Waits soundtrack particularly effective)


“Struwwelhitler” from Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories & Vile Pictures

London’s Children in the 19th Century

David Hockney & the Chief Muse of the Brothers Grimm

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by Liz Hager


David Hockney, Catherina Dorothea Viehmann (frontispiece of Six Fairy Tales), 1969 etching/aquatint.

In 1970 David Hockney and Petersburg Press released Six Fairy Tales, a compilation of 39 etchings and the texts of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tales, including

Although there have been many subsequent translations and adaptations of the Brothers Grimm’s original 1812 volume, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), the texts in Hockney’s edition were re-translated from the (1962?) version released by  Manesse Verlag in Zürich. 

Hockney produced the portfolio in four separate editions of 100 with 15 artist’s proofs; the artist drew the images directly on copper plates, which were pulled at Petersburg Press.  The folios were hand sewn and bound into a blue leather slipcase. Additionally, each edition contained a discrete set of six etchings culled from the 39 illustratons, which were slipped loose into a pocket in the book’s slipcase. The artist also produced a separate portfolio (one edition of 100), in which each tale and its accompanying renderings where folded concertina-style and individually signed and numbered by the artist.

Sometime later, perhaps in the mid-70s, a trade edition of the book was released, both in full and miniature size. Although mass-produced,  the latter version possesses a precious, magical quality that is in in keeping with the spirit of the Medieval Volk-inspired tales. It’s a unique addition to any collection of illustrated children’s books.


(Left) David Hockney, Boy Hidden in an Egg, 1969, etching/aquatint/drypoint. (Right) David Hockney, Boy Hidden in a Fish, 1969.

What inspired Hockney about The Brothers’ Grimm?  As Karen Armstrong points out in A Short History of Myth, a central purpose of myth is to show us “how to behave.” The Grimm tales are no exception. Chock-full of romance and rescue, familial conflict and truly gruesome violence, the tales are meant as manuals of manners, guides “out of the woods.”



(Left) David Hockney, The Cook, 1969, etching/aquatint.. (Right) David Hokcney, The Pot Boiling, 1969, etching/aquatint.

Peter Webb, author of Portrait of David Hockney, illuminates Hockney’s motivation:

David Hockney had always loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales and had read all 220 of them. He also admired earlier illustrations to them by Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. In 1969 he decided to make his own images. He especially enjoyed the elements of magic in the tales, and his images focus on his imaginative response to the descriptions in the text rather than attempting to concentrate on the most important events in the narrative. They are therefore more than simply illustrations: they stand on their own as images, independent of the stories.

Unlike other illustrator’s renderings, which impart a beauteous overtone to the stories, through his own quirky rendering of characters and details, Hockney has managed to expertly capture the dark magic mood of the tales. Further, as The Cook and The Pot Boiling from “Fundevogel” brilliantly illustrate, the gruesome details need not always be depicted for us to grasp the sinister undertones of the story.  The artist’s depiction of the Enchantress in “Rapunzel” as an androgynous crone sends shivers up the spine. 



 (Left) David Hockney, The Enchantress in Her Garden, 1969, etching/aquatint. (Right) David Hockney, The Enchantress with Baby Rapunzel, 1969, etching/aquatint/drypoint.

And what of Catherina Dorothea Viehmann, Hockney’s frontispiece portrait?  Few readers know that in the height of the Romantic Era the Grimms did not travel the German countryside transcribing stories from simple peasants, but relied on a small network of bourgeois female friends and acquaintances to retell the stories they had heard in various homes. As scholars, the Grimms put their own name on the books they edited, keeping the identity of their storytellers largely secret. In this way, on the eve of German patriotic rebirth after years of occupation by Napoleon’s government, the Grimms were able to maintain the conceit of a vast repository of German Volkskultur.

In the best oral tradition, women recited folk tales to each other to ward off the boredom of household chores and to instruct younger women on the proper way for women to behave. Over half of the 210 stories in the first edition were contributed by women. Family friend Marie Hassenpflug was responsible for “Sleeping Beauty” and “Red Riding Hood;” neighbor Dorchen Wild for “Rumpelstilzchen,” “The Six Swans” and “Frau Holle” (incidentally one of the Grimms’ most popular stories in Germany today). 

Ludwig Emil Grimm, Dorothea Viehmann, charcoal on paper, ca. 1814.

In the spring of 1813 the Brothers met Dorothea Viehmann, an impoverished widow, who by then would have been in her late 50s. The daughter of an innkeeper, Dorothea may have picked up stories as a girl from her mother and even the guests and tradespeople of her father’s inn. Viehmann possessed a photographic memory when it came to recounting the details of her stories; apparently she could stop mid-sentence and retrace a previous section word for word as she had already told it.  Wilhelm confessed: “She comes to visit at least once a week and unleashes (her stories). We take turns transcribing. . . and by now have (made) such lovely progress that we could probably deliver a second volume.” (letter from Wilhelm to his brother Ferdinand—translated by Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids, pp. 151-152).

In all Dorothea Viehmann contributed over 40 stories, to the Grimms’ second volume,  including “Cinderella,” “The Goose Maid” and “The Devil with Three Golden Hairs.” Ironically, Viehmann’s heritage was French Huguenot, so the likely origin of her stories was not Germany at all. 

The Grimm family included two other brothers. Ludwig Emil became an artist, who among other endeavors illustrated his brothers’ fairy tale books. In the 1819 edition of Children’s and Household Fairy Tales, his portrait of Dorothea Viehmann appeared as the frontispiece, although one wonders with what attribution. When David Hockney re-instated Viehmann to her position as Chief Muse for the Brothers Grimm, he revealed a part of the Grimms’ own secret history. 

Wider Connections

David Hockney

Culturistas on David Hockney

The Annotated Brothers Grimm—Essays by A.S. Byatt; 150 illustrations by artists including George Cruikshank, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham.

Bruno Bettelheim—The Uses of Enchantment

Valerie Paridiz—Clever Maids: The Secret History of The Grimm Fairy Tales 

Brothers Grimm background

Manesse Codex (translated and transcribed by Jacob Grimm)

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