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Reviewed by:
  • Mütter und Anti-Mütter in den Märchen der Brüder Grimm
  • Ann Schmiesing (bio)
Mütter und Anti-Mütter in den Märchen der Brüder Grimm. By Nathalie Blaha-Peillex. Tübingen: Tübinger Vereinigung für Volkskunde, 2008. 266 pp.

In this published dissertation, Nathalie Blaha-Peillex explores the transformation of maternal figures from the first (1812/1815) to the seventh edition (1857) of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen (KHM). She examines a corpus of sixty-four fairy tales in the KHM in which mothers or "anti-mothers" appear. By analyzing Wilhelm Grimm's contamination of the tales over several editions, she is able to draw attention to how the KHM reveals the nineteenth-century bourgeois construction of a cult of motherhood. As her analysis shows, this cult highlighted in particular the "Stimme des Blutes" (literally the "voice of the blood") revealed in the mother's devotion to her biological child. [End Page 347] Toward the end of the study Blaha-Peillex also includes an overview of portrayals of fathers in the tales; in addition, she briefly compares the maternal figures in the Grimms' tales with those in earlier tales by d'Aulnoy and Perrault, as well as with the mothers in Ludwig Bechstein's collection.

The principal parts of the book are unnumbered and divided into several sections and subsections, which are also unnumbered. After giving an overview of constructions of the "good mother" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a brief introduction to the Grimms' collecting and editing of their tales, Blaha-Peillex explores the various categories and subcategories of the positive maternal figures she identifies in the Grimms' tales. These figures include not only biological mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers, and female protagonists who are mothers, but also maternal figures one might not at first glance regard as positive, such as stepmothers, mothers-in-law, and witches. As Blaha-Peillex suggests, the categorization of these figures as positive or negative is perspectival; for example, she regards the stepmothers in tales such as "Mother Holle" and "One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes" as positive maternal figures to their biological children but negative maternal figures to their stepchildren. She points out that Wilhelm Grimm at times added a brief explanation of the stepmother's preference for her biological children or chose a variant (or part of a variant) of a particular tale that included such an explanation. In this way, he accentuated the stepmother's selective maternal love for her own biological offspring.

Of particular interest is Blaha-Peillex's analysis of dead mothers, whose status as perfect and indeed almost saintly figures is assured by their early deaths and the subsequent usurpation of their roles by a malevolent stepmother. Wilhelm Grimm idealized the dead mother in tales such as "Cinderella," where he used the words liebes Kind (dear child) to emphasize the loving relationship between the biological mother and her child. Blaha-Peillex points out that the number of dead mothers grows from nine in the first edition to fourteen in the seventh edition.

Many of the same categories examined as positive maternal figures reappear in the sections on anti-mothers, which include biological mothers, stepmothers, witches, and mothers-in-law. Blaha-Peillex reminds her readers that in order not to violate the notion that mothers naturally love their biological children, Wilhelm Grimm at times changed a wicked biological mother into a stepmother or preferred variants in which a stepmother appears instead of a negative biological mother. She observes that whereas the mother in "Hansel and Gretel" is referred to as Mutter (mother) eleven times while she is a biological mother, she is referred to as Mutter only twice in the 1857 edition, where she first appears as a stepmother. She also notes that whereas biological mothers are not punished for their misdeeds, stepmothers routinely are. [End Page 348]

Other interesting observations appear in the sections on witches. Noting that witches are the largest group of anti-mothers in the collection, Blaha-Peillex studies how Wilhelm Grimm's editorial changes standardize the physical appearance of witches in the tales, and she also draws attention to his insertion in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-1802
Print ISSN
1521-4281
Pages
pp. 347-350
Launched on MUSE
2010-11-12
Open Access
No
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