- The Hard Facts about the Bad Girls
The two-hundredth anniversaries of the births of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1985 and 1986, respectively) brought in their wake newly edited and freshly produced books and essays about the brothers and their 173-year-old collection, Die Kinder und Hausmärchen (KHM). Works from Heinz Rölleke's annotated reprints of the various KHM editions to the upcoming Weimar catalogue of the Grimms' extensive library holdings have generated the critical mass necessary for many of the current studies on the most published, translated, and internationally popular German book.
Thus Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the Tales by Ruth Bottigheimer and The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar are embedded in a larger picture of revived Grimm and fairy tale scholarship. And they both bring fresh perspectives to the study of the tales. Read separately, Bottigheimer's work may appeal more to the Grimm researcher, Tatar's to the general reader. Read together, they complement each other in their approaches and offer new impulses for further research.
That Bottigheimer and Tatar are writing with different intentions and to different audiences becomes readily apparent in the titles they choose for the KHM: Bottigheimer's abbreviated version, Grimms' Tales, signals her interest in the stories as the product of the brothers themselves; Tatar openly rejects the commonly used title Grimms' Fairy Tales because, among other reasons, it "perpetrates that misconception that the tales have a single author" (xxiii). She opts instead for Nursery and Household Tales, a nomenclature more consonant with her treatment of the KHM as children's literature. Bottigheimer works from the idea that the Grimms [End Page 240] (and here she usually means Wilhelm) molded the collection in their own likeness, with their own "social and moral vision"—and she produces strong evidence to support her claims—whereas Tatar proceeds more from the assumption that the collection was reshaped by Wilhelm Grimm's concern with critical (and to some extent commercial) successes (" [Wilhelm's] nervous sensitivity about moral objections to the tales in the collection reflects a growing desire to write for children rather than to collect for scholars" ) and by his attention to changing cultural codes and rules of conduct.
Bottigheimer's Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys is a content analysis of the entire body of tales, "focusing in particular on the use of gender in the stories" (jacket cover). The author relies on Stith Thompson's Motif Index of Folk-Literature and Index of Tale Types for chapters ranging from "natural powers and elemental differences" (3); "witches, maidens and spells" (4) to "prohibitions, transgressions, and punishments" (8); "deaths and executions" (9); and "towers, forests, and trees" (10). At times we buckle under Bottigheimer's onerous burden, the almost fairytale isolation of the author spinning a product not out of straw, but of heaps and mountains of notecards. But these notecards spin intricate structures; with her (excruciatingly) meticulous content analysis, Bottigheimer weaves complex patterns from seemingly disparate motifs. She finds, for example, that there is "a gender specificity about springs, wells, and brooks that not only favors women but at the same time threatens men" (30); that "of the successful spells actually laid in Grimms' Tales, the overwhelming majority, if not all, are performed by young, beautiful, and usually nubile girls [and their] effectiveness in laying spells seems related to an inborn connection to nature itself" (40); and that "men and women in Grimms' Tales might inhabit radically different worlds as indicated by their associations with fire and water" (35).
The chapter "Paradigms for Powerlessness" (7) is, to my mind, one of the most interesting, because there Bottigheimer "venture[s] beyond content analysis to try to relate these patterns to the society in which they took shape" (73). Here she offers a model for understanding the tales as a product of the society from which they sprung as she...