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  • Das Buch, das wir sind: Zur Poetik der Kinder- und Hausmärchen, gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm
  • Ruth B. Bottigheimer
Das Buch, das wir sind: Zur Poetik der Kinder- und Hausmärchen, gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm. By Jens E. Sennewald . Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2004. 375 pp.

Jens Sennewald's hypothesis is that a close connection exists between the form (Gestalt) of a book and its reception (Wirkungsgeschichte) (15). Born of perceptions that have grown out of book history studies, his hypothesis leads directly to the Grimms' own framing of their collection with a lengthy explanatory preface. Sennewald treats the preface in terms of its conscious intention rather than in terms of its essential content. With this novel angle of entry into the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen, he then resituates the Kinder- und Hausmärchen within traditional framed-tale collections like those of Gian Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile.

Sennewald's tactic may surprise readers of Marvels & Tales, who have learned that the Grimm collection differs from those earlier collections precisely because it is not framed. Sennewald, however, postulates a theoretical mentalité frame for the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, and does so with reference to a visual frame designed and executed by Philipp Otto Runge for one of his paintings, the Lehrstunde der Nachtigall (82-92). Runge's elaborate gold trompe l'oeil surround for the Lehrstunde (reproduced 84, 91) both repeats and extends the picture's content. This, Sennewald claims, is precisely the function performed by Wilhelm Grimm's preface to the Kinder- und Hausmärchen.

Sennewald's reasoning requires discussion of Straparola's preface to the Piacevoli notti. He is one of the rare authorities to acknowledge and emphasize the fictionality of Straparola's frame-tale situation (95-96). As is well known, [End Page 140] Wilhelm Grimm used Straparola's frame tale to support and further his own agenda when he wrote: "Straparola got [the stories], as it says in the preface to the second volume (before the sixth night) from the mouths of ten young women and [he] expressly declared that they were not his own [creation]" (cited 95). Sennewald finds it amazing that Grimm would abstract precisely this passage as credible proof of authenticity, when he had characterized parts of the collection as not only indecent (unanständig) but also obscene (unzüchtig) to the point of a shamelessness that couldn't be excused even, as Grimm continued, by the looser social standards current in Italy at that time. Grimm's reason, Sennewald concludes, is that he wished to align his own collection with Straparola's, the oldest available European collection that included folk and fairy tales. Sennewald provides concrete parallels for his view: Grimm's reasoning allowed him to present himself, like Straparola, as simply a gatherer and disseminator of oral tales. However, this also required Grimm to overlook Straparola's subsequent statements claiming ownership of the stories (96).

Sennewald understands Straparola's ten fictive narrators in more sophisticated terms as a "poetological component of his creation" (97). His assumption frees him to pursue the question of why Wilhelm Grimm misread Straparola's preface. He concludes that it is a case of (Freudian) misrepresentation (Entstellung) and suppression (Verdrängung 98). The majority of scholars in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries have likewise accepted Straparola's fiction as a fundamental folkloric truth, so Grimm is not alone in this misunderstanding.

According to Sennewald, Grimm's misperception of Straparola produced a noble result: in the Grimms' texts poetic suppression functions constructively, making their original liveliness visible in the reconstructed mythological text (98). After examining similar questions in Basile's Lo cunto de li cunti, Sennewald concludes that the "we" of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen preface that referred to the Grimm brothers was meant to be read as an "Instrument einer Poesie," which—like the female contributor(s)—guided their pens (101). Central to the Grimms' project was the assumed authenticity of other "collectors'" tales. Accordingly, the "obvious" relationship of "the French tales with the Italian and the German" as well as visible evidence of their undeniable independence from those traditions "proves undeniably" that their content was...


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