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Reviewed by:
  • Im Reich der Wünsche by Shawn C. Jarvis
  • Julie Koehler (bio)
Im Reich der Wünsche. Edited by Shawn C. Jarvis. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2012. 366pp.

More than 400 German women writers published fairy tales in the nineteenth century, but today nearly all of their works are out of print and unavailable in most libraries. In Im Reich der Wünsche, Shawn C. Jarvis gives these stories new life, bringing them back into print. As she says in the afterword, playing off the common German fairy-tale ending, “Damit sie nicht sterben, sollen sie weiterleben in diesem Band” (“in order for them not to die, they must live on in this volume,” 319). Im Reich der Wünsche cannot possibly include all the fairy tales that German women wrote in the nineteenth century, but Jarvis has provided a carefully curated selection of twenty-one stories that demonstrate the wide variety of women who were writing in the period and the significance of their contribution.

Of course it is difficult to talk about Im Reich der Wünsche without mentioning The Queen’s Mirror, a collection of translations of these rare stories that Jarvis published together with Jeannine Blackwell in 2001. The Queen’s Mirror was a much needed volume of new translations of women’s fairy tales, but because the original German stories remained in inaccessible out-of-print sources, many readers were left wishing for a similar collection in German. Even though Im Reich der Wünsche is that collection, it is not simply a German version of The Queen’s Mirror. A third of the collection is made up of new stories, and its structure is significantly different. Unlike The Queen’s Mirror, it has no introduction or preface and the stories are not individually introduced; rather, the biographical and historical information has been shifted to appendixes. This allows one to read tale after tale uninterrupted by secondary information. Lovely illustrations throughout by Isabel Große Holtforth help to bind the diverse stories together into a unified whole.

And this is a worthy task, for the authors and tales vary widely. If these stories were left to die, as Jarvis phrased it, in the few archives that still held them, with them would die the unique perspectives of their authors and their important contributions to fairy-tale history. For instance, Elisabeth Ebeling’s “Schwarz und Weiß” (“Black and White,” 1869) takes on race relations and comes to a surprising conclusion for the nineteenth century: “Dass die Farbe der Haut Nebensache ist und dass nichts darauf ankommt, ob man weiß oder schwarz aussieht, wenn man nur weise ist” (“The color of skin is secondary, and it does not matter if one is white or black, if one is only wise,” 262). One of the new stories in the collection, Friederike Helene Unger’s “Prinzessin Gracula” (1804), is a kind of Bildungsmärchen, in which a princess must pass through a magical world of metaphoric trials. Another new tale in this collection is Charlotte von Ahlefeld’s “Die Nymphe des Rheins” (1812), in which an [End Page 150] Undine recounts “den kurzen Traum des meines vergangenen Glücks” (“the short dream of my long-lost joy,” 63) in her own words just a year after Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine was published. Jarvis also includes several of the Grimms’ informants’ stories that were deemed unfit for Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Take Ludovica Brentano Jordis des Bordes’s “Der Löwe und der Frosch” (“The Lion and the Frog,” 1814), which tells of a young woman who saves her brother in an active and transgressive manner by cutting off her master the lion’s head. When it turns out that her brother was in fact the lion himself, enchanted until “eine Mädchenhand aus Liebe zu mir dem Löwen den Kopf abhauen würde” (“a girl’s hand would cut off the head of the lion out of love for me,” 89), it is clear that she released both her brother from the role of oppressor and herself from his rule. “Der Löwe und der Frosch” originally appeared in the second volume of...


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