- Wit als Sneeuw, Zwart als Inkt: De Sprookjes van Grimm in de Nederlandstalige Literatuur by Vanessa Joosen
In 2011 Vanessa Joosen published Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings, in which she focused on the period between 1970 and 2005. In 2012 Joosen published the Dutch-language book Wit als Sneeuw, Zwart als Inkt: De Sprookjes van Grimm in de Nederlandstalige Literatuur (White as Snow, Black as Ink: The Grimm Fairy Tales in Dutch-Language Literature). The starting point for this publication is significantly earlier, 1810, when the Grimms compiled their Ölenberg manuscript, and 1812, when they published the first volume of their Kinder- und Hausmärchen. The publication of this book was not a resounding success from the start in Germany, let alone in the Netherlands; in a review, the first Dutch translation was called a crazy little book with horrid pictures. The translation was not terrific, but it cannot be denied either that the enlightened Low Countries were in no way ready for a Romantic movement yet. In England the translation did meet with immediate approval, because it contained a selection of the more successful tales and because it had accompanying illustrations by the talented artist George Cruikshank. By the time the Kinder- und Hausmärchen was published in Germany and the Low Countries as a selection, with better illustrations and more oriented toward a juvenile audience, the book gained in popularity considerably.
Wit als Sneeuw further pays attention to the reception of the Grimm fairy tales in the Low Countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to the developments that the tales underwent in translations, images, and modern adaptations. As the title suggests, one fairy tale acts as a leitmotif in the entire study: “Snow White” (ATU 709), which is a typical Grimm fairy tale, absent in Perrault and Andersen. All important developments from translation to parody are illustrated based on “Snow White.”
Joosen demonstrates that the tales had already undergone a great many changes through Wilhelm Grimm’s intervention. For instance, in 1819 evil mothers changed into evil stepmothers. In the Low Countries the fairy tales were frequently translated by women, and the end of the nineteenth century saw the first criticism (by Nellie van Kol) of the materialistic, misogynistic, [End Page 189] and violent tendencies in fairy tales. The 1970s experienced a fairy-tale revival but also a return of criticism from a feminist and a Marxist angle. For example, Snow White was often accused of lacking initiative. In the twentieth century commercial companies created variants that were sometimes all too sugary and middle class. Examples would be Disney (with Snow White acting like a housewife and mother, forcing the dwarfs to wash their hands) and the Dutch fairy-tale theme park, Efteling. The supposedly delicate nature of children is considered to an increasing extent, and cruelties (such as Snow White’s stepmother dancing to her death in red-hot iron shoes) are removed. Conversely, in postwar modern adaptations and parodies, horrifying and erotic elements are sometimes consciously emphasized, intending to reach a more adult audience. The romantic elements are shattered, stories are retold from the perspective of different characters, fairy-tale and modern elements are combined in a funny way, and so on, leading to an intricate play of intertextuality.
Wit als Sneeuw surely builds up to a climax, for the last item Joosen discusses is the award-winning psychological youth novel by Wim Hofman from 1997, Zwart als Inkt is het Verhaal van Sneeuwwitje en de Zeven Dwergen (Black as Ink Is the Story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). In this version the flat characters become round, the stepmother changes back into a depressed mother, and Snow White is portrayed as a sensitive, intelligent girl who writes a lot of letters that are never sent. Snow White repeatedly considers committing suicide.
Wit als Sneeuw is a useful book about the translation, adaptation, reworking, and parodying of fairy tales in the Low Countries; it...