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A seminal nineteenth-century German children's book by Heinrich Hoffmann that presented darkly humorous and didactic cautionary tales for children.


Heinrich Hoffmann's original edition of his collection of juvenile short stories, Der Struwwelpeter (1845), is today credited with sparking a thematic reinterpretation of children's literature, the lingering influences of which are still felt throughout the genre today. Written in 1845 by Hoffmann, a German physician, Der Struwwelpeter depicted a series of short lyrical stories—with accompanying graphic illustrations by Hoffmann himself—about children who misbehaved and whose actions subsequently lead to very negative repercussions. At once dark, humorous, frightening, and subversive, the text has inspired a host of imitators, retellings, and parodies even as authority figures have debated its appropriateness for children. In its country of origin, Der Struwwelpeter is held as an iconic work of German national literature and has been the subject of over seven-hundred reprint editions. Internationally, Hoffmann's book has been translated into wide host of languages, including French, Italian, English, Swedish, Arabic, Esperanto, and Latin, among many others. Many notable children's authors—ranging from Mark Twain to Maurice Sendak to Roald Dahl—have claimed to have been heavily influenced by Der Struwwelpeter's prose style and approach to its juvenile readers. Children's literature scholar Jack Zipes has even labeled Hoffmann's work "the most famous children's book in the world."

Known variously as "Shockheaded Peter," "Slovenly Peter," or simply "Struwwelpeter" in English, the book was born from Hoffmann's frustration in finding "suitable" stories for his oldest son Carl during the Christmas season of 1844. Born June 13, 1809, in Frankfurt am Main, Heinrich Hoffmann was the son of Philipp Jacob Hoffmann, a prominent architect and urban engineer, who placed great demands upon his son to succeed. Hoffmann's mother died shortly after his birth, and his father apparently expressed his disappointment with his young son on a regular basis. Heinrich eventually overcame his lack of early parental support, attending university in Heidelberg, before earning his medical degree in 1833. He opened a clinic for the poor in Frankfurt in 1835 and became a part of a liberal circle of local intellectuals who advocated for increased democratic progress in Germany. Hoffmann married Therese Donner in 1840, with whom he had three children, Carl, Antonie, and Eduard. In the fall of 1844, as he searched for a picture book for his son, Hoffmann was acutely disappointed in the limited literary offerings available to children, which he would later categorize as falling into one of two groups—either part of the sentimental Beidermeier tradition of folksy, religious-inspired works or those based upon Enlightenment tracts, which tended to be heavily didactic and dull in his estimation. As a result, Hoffmann bought a blank notebook and began drafting his own children's book, mining inspiration from his interactions with his young patients. Hoffmann later commented that, in the past, his talent for storytelling has been particularly helpful in helping him calm nervous children who were frightened of doctors: "On such occasions a slip of paper and a pencil generally came to my assistance. A story, invented on the spur of the moment, illustrated with a few touches of the pencil and humorously related, will calm the little antagonist, dry his tears, and allow the medical man to do his duty."

Hoffmann's finished product, completed in 1845, featured five lyrical stories, plus an even shorter poem he titled "Struwwelpeter," accompanied by several comical pen-and-ink drawings to compliment each tale. To highlight the "Struwwelpeter" poem, he created the now-infamous image of Struwwelpeter himself: a wild-haired boy with long fingernails extending out like claws from his hands. The name "Struwwelpeter" roughly translates into English as "Peter in disarray," which, in fact, offers a succinct summary of the poem itself: young "Slovenly Peter" refuses to wash his hair or trim his nails, thus making his personal appearance disgusting. The stories were outrageous, to say the least, featuring over-the-top violence recounted in a light-hearted and mildly reproving tone by an omniscient narrator. The handmade book proved so popular among Hoffmann's family and friends that he agreed to publish the text in 1845—titled Der Struwwelpeter oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bildre für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren—under the pseudonym Reimerich Kinderlieb. In addition to the "Struwwelpeter" poem, the five stories in the initial edition of Der Struwwelpeter included: "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich/The Story of Cruel (or "Naughty") Frederick," which relates how Frederick mistreats all the animals he meets until a friendly dog bites him after being kicked; "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben/The Story of the Inky (or 'Black') Boys," which tells of three boys who mock a child of African descent despite the repeated warnings of Saint Nicholas; "Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger/The Story of the Wild Huntsman," a silly story about a hunter's encounter with a vengeful, gun-toting rabbit; "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher/The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb," in which no one can get little Conrad to stop sucking his thumb until the adults resort to drastic measures; and finally "Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar/The Story of Augustus who did not have any Soup" (Or "Soupy Caspar"), a story about the overweight Augustus's stubborn refusal to eat the soup prepared for him. The volume's initial pressing of 1,500 copies sold out in only five weeks, encouraging Hoffmann to issue an expanded version of the book with two new stories in 1846 under the name Heinrich Kinderlieb. The two new inclusions were "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug/The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches," a surprisingly descriptive account of poor little Pauline's encounter with some matches, and "Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp/The Story of Fidgety Philip," wherein little Philip cannot sit still, despite constant admonishments from his parents. The book soon became such an unprecedented best-seller in Germany that, for the fifth edition published in 1850, Hoffmann finally released the book under his own name, placing the popular image of "Struwwelpeter" at the cover. The 1850 edition also included Hoffmann's final two story additions to the standard contemporary edition of Der Struwwelpeter: "Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft/The Story of Johnny Look-in-the-Air," wherein Johnny cannot seem to keep his eyes in front of him as he's been frequently told, and "Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert/The Story of Flying Robert," which relates the events of little Robert's ill-advised walk during a storm.

Throughout Der Struwwelpeter, Hoffmann's tales almost all come to uniformly tragic ends: Frederick is confined to his bed for painful medical treatments while the dog enjoys his dinner; the "Inky Boys" are dipped in ink in punishment by Saint Nicholas, permanently staining their skin; the Wild Huntsman is shot at and almost killed by the rabbit mother; thumb-sucking Conrad has his thumbs sliced off by the tailor to prevent any further thumb-sucking; Augustus perishes from lack of food; Pauline is burned alive, leaving only a pile of ashes; Philip slams to the floor under his family's dinner table; Johnny's refusal to watch where he's going almost gets him drowned; and finally, Robert is swept away by a storm, never to be seen again. Several of Hoffmann's simple illustrations—which he insisted be included in all editions—are relatively graphic in their primitive, cartoonish style. The images of Conrad's thumbs being snipped off show droplets of blood pouring from his hands, whereas Pauline is shown running around engulfed in flames, before a final portrait shows only a pile of ashes as the girl's cats mew in grief.

Modern readers might question the appropriateness of presenting such graphically violent tales to children, but in nineteenth-century Germany, such "cautionary tales" were seen as an effective means of imparting lessons of safety and social custom in a humorous fashion. However, that is not to say that certain segments of German society did not find Der Struwwelpeter objectionable for other reasons. The German magazine Fliegende Blätter jokingly called Hoffmann's text "a pamphlet of revolutionary propaganda" in 1848, though their message echoed the concerns of a sizable group of parents and leaders who worried that the stories invoked a message of disobedience and actually encouraged young readers to emulate the behavior of Hoffmann's ill-fated protagonists. Hoffmann justified the graphic nature of his stories by arguing that the book simply echoed the perversity and violence inherit in most fairy tales, as with Snow White's poisoning by her own stepmother or Little Red Riding Hood being swallowed by the Wolf. He later commented, "The book is supposed to evoke fairy-tale-like, horrid, and exaggerated ideas! You cannot touch a child's soul with the absolute truth, or with algebraic propositions; instead, you will make it waste away miserably." Hoffmann asserted that, by graphically illustrating the sorts of social dangers his tales addressed, children learn to understand threats to their safety and the needs of proper social adaptation. In his words, "The child learns simply through the eye, and it only understands that which it sees. It does not know anything whatsoever to do with moral prescripts. The warnings—Don't get dirty! Be careful with matches and leave them alone! Behave yourself!—are empty words for the child. But the portrayal of the dirty slob, the burning dress, the inattentive child who has an accident—these scenes explain themselves just through the looking that also brings about the teaching." Jack Zipes has suggested that Hoffmann's true intent may have, in part, been born of his own father's severe methods of instilling morality and fortitude, and that "[t]hrough humor, Hoffmann tried to minimize the power that his father had held over him while also pursuing a new strategy to gain control over his son. The exaggerated features in the drawings and the preposterous situations commented on by a voice that speaks in doggerel are not bound to scare readers. More likely they will and do evoke smiles. Nevertheless, Hoffmann's book is nothing to smile about either, because it reveals a deadly process of dampening instinctual drives in the name of bourgeois civilization." Regarding the volume's vast popularity with children and adults, Eva-Maria Metcalf has noted that, "[c]hildren appreciated the drama and child-orientation of the stories as well as their anarchic spirit and grotesque exaggeration; and in the case of Struwwelpeter parents presumably appreciated the ease with which children swallowed the nicely well-wrapped educational message." Ironically, however, despite Hoffmann's own avowed wishes to create something that avoided the overt didacticism of the religious texts he spurned in 1844, Der Struwwelpeter is nevertheless seen by many as overly heavy-handed in its tone, even with the book's remarkable indulgence in its macabre thrills.

Regardless of its intent, Der Struwwelpeter marked a turning point in children's literature. It was among the first children's books to present a seamless fusion of text and image, ranking among the earliest of picture books. Furthermore, the volume is unquestionably concerned with entertaining children—rather than simply instructing them—with every aspect of its creation having been implemented to appeal to the interests of young readers. The wryly morbid stories of Der Struwwelpeter simultaneously offered dark portrayals of death and horror that were balanced by the action, zest, and life of the characters themselves. But the text also evinces Hoffmann's aesthetic as a concerned parent, arguing for self-discipline and manners, while suggesting causality for negative behaviors. J. D. Stahl summed up the appeal of the book as "undoubtedly [having] cautionary and instructional content, [the stories] are also suffused with a wry combination of humor, extravagance, and pragmatism. The world of Hoffmann's imagination as revealed in this book is a harsh and abrupt one, but it is also vigorous and fascinating. There is an undercurrent of anarchic energy running through this work that is not entirely contained by the moralistic frame." However, despite being published over 150 years ago, Der Struwwelpeter still continues to spark controversy. In a 1977 article about the dangers of violence in children's literature, Thomas Freeman argued that Hoffmann's stories may reinforce fears and negative behaviors in children rather than ameliorate them. Freeman stated, "[b]oth the stories of Conrad and Paulina play upon some of the worst fears which can torment a child. Not only is Paulina burned up, but she is abandoned by her parents, when she needs them desperately. Psychoanalysts would no doubt tell us that the loss of Conrad's thumbs suggest children's castration fears."

Though its content will continue to be debated for years, Der Struwwelpeter's impact upon children's literature has been widespread and dramatic. Scholars such as U. C. Knoepflmacher have traced Hoffmann's influence to several famous twentieth-century writers, theorizing that "[t]he sadism that fuels Hoffmann's stories of mutilated thumbsuckers and incinerated match girls also operates in the fables of Kipling and Sendak." Indeed, Maurice Sendak has called Der Struwwelpeter "one of the most beautiful books in the world." Metcalf has contended that Der Struwwelpeter ranks among the most influential children's books of the nineteenth century, suggesting "[i]ts uniqueness and importance … do not lie in the message but in the manner in which this message is relayed—in other words, in its formal and stylistic elements … Struwwelpeter marks the beginning of the modern picture book design through its interplay of picture and text, and it displays a blend of the popular and pedagogical, typical of the modern children's book." Knoepflmacher has further suggested that the book still serves as inspiration to generations of writers who create stories "within a literary tradition inimical to that of the cautionary tale, a countertradition that values, rather than deplores, the irrepressible child-energies that it, too, tries to harness and contain."

Beyond its impact as a foundation for many aspects of modern children's literature, Der Struwwelpeter has also been a continuing force within literature, politics, and pop culture, inspiring a host of imitators, parodies, and translations. Hoffmann's stories have spawned dozens of parodic works, which have been used variously as political devices to create effective caricatures of such notable figures as German Emperor William (E. V. Lucas's 1914 Swollen-Headed William), Grand Prince Peter of Serbia (K. E. Olszewski's 1915 Bombenpeter), and Adolf Hitler (Robert and Philip Spence's 1941 Struwwelhitler). However, Dorothea McEwan has doubted that these parodies actually ever meant to elicit the same sorts of altered behavior that Hoffmann originally intended with his cautionary tales, suggesting "publications like Struwwelhitler were more a means of raising morale at home with the message that justice always triumphs than that they were ever a means of converting or frightening the Germans." David Blamires has credited the flexibility of Struwwelpeter for the sheer variability and multitude of purposes into which it has been appropriated, including a "satirical attack on the danger and disruptiveness of the recently invented motorcar," all of which cumulatively "are testimony to the adaptability of Struwwelpeter and its classic status as an English nursery book. The original pictures and stories embody so many key experiences in the child's negotiations of independence vis-à-vis its parents that they provide manifold opportunities for parody and social comment." Since its dramatic heyday, Struwwelpeter's direct influence outside of Germany has waned, particularly in the later twentieth century. Metcalf has argued that "Struwwelpeter can still fascinate its intended audience of preschoolers and demand the attention of scholars of children's literature. Its content matter and the pedagogical practice it represents are outdated at the close of the twentieth century, giving rise to occasional debates among child pedagogues about the advisability of presenting such a text to children." However, the lasting impact of Struwwelpeter continues to be apparent throughout the children's literature genre, particularly in the quietly subversive works of such authors as Edward Gorey, Roald Dahl, and Lemony Snicket, among many others. J. D. Stahl has contended that the legacy of Struwwelpeter will continue to manifest itself because "Hoffmann's characters so vividly contrast the notion, frequently dominant in scholarship, that didacticism must be unimaginative. Struwwelpeter and his American cousin, Slovenly Peter, throw an irreverent 'Ätsch'—or perhaps, more aptly, a loud Bronx cheer—in the direction of that idea."


Harold Begbie
The Political Struwwelpeter [illustrated by F. Carruthers Gould] (satirical fiction) 1899
The Struwwelpeter Alphabet [illustrated by F. Carruthers Gould] (satirical fiction) 1899
Julian Bleach, Anthony Cairns, Graeme Gilmour, Tamzin Griffin, and Jo Pocock
*Shockheaded Peter (musical play) 1997
Manfred Bofinger
Haps: das Menschenfresserbuch (picture book) 1994
Wilhelm Busch
Max and Moritz (A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks) (juvenile fiction) 1865
Robert Colling-Pyper and Margaret Stavridi
Schicklgrüber—Some Cautionary Tales of Modern Times (satirical fiction) 1943
Roald Dahl
James and the Giant Peach [illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert] (juvenile fiction) 1961
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [illustrations by Joseph Schindelman] (juvenile fiction) 1964
Heinrich Hoffmann
Der Struwwelpeter oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bildre für Kinder von 3-6 Jahren [Slovenly Peter, or, Cheerful Stories and Funny Pictures for Good Little Folks; as Reimerich Kinderlieb] (juvenile short stories) 1845

Der Struwwelpeter [second edition; as Heinrich Kinderlieb] (juvenile short stories) 1846
§Der Struwwelpeter [fifth edition; as Heinrich Hoffmann] (juvenile short stories) 1850
Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories and Vile Pictures to Instruct Good Little Folks [illustrations by Sarita Vendetta; with an introduction by Jack Zipes] (juvenile short stories) 1999
E. V. Lucas
Swollen-Headed William: Painful Stories and Funny Pictures after the German [illustrations by G. Morrow] (satirical fiction) 1914
Fritz, Richard, and Magdalene Netolitsky
Der Aegyptische Struwwelpeter (satirical fiction) 1895
K. E. Olszewski
Bombenpeter (satirical fiction) 1915
Robert and Philip Spence
Struwwelhitler. Eine englische Struwwelpeter-Parodie aus dem Jahre 1941 (satirical fiction) 1941
Friedrich Stern
Der Struwwelpeter von Heute (juvenile short stories) 1914
Mark Twain
Slovenly Peter (Der Struwwelpeter): Translated into English Jingles from the Original German of Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann (juvenile short stories) 1935
F. K. Waechter
Der Anti-Struwwelpeter (satirical fiction) 1973
A. de C. Williams
The Marlborough Struwwelpeter (satirical fiction) 1908
Archibald Williams
Petrol Peter [illustrations by A. Wallis Mills] (satirical fiction) 1906

*Shockheaded Peter is based on Heinrich Hoffmann's Der Struwwelpeter, with lyrics by Martyn Jacques and original music by Adrian Huge, Martyn Jacques, and Adrian Stout.

†Includes the stories "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich/The Story of Cruel (or "Naughty") Frederick"; "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben/The Story of the Inky (or 'Black') Boys"; "Die Geschichte von dem wilden Jäger/The Story of the Wild Huntsman"; "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher/The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb"; and "Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar/The Story of Augustus who did not have any Soup."

‡Hoffmann added two new stories to the original five for this edition: "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug/The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches" and "Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp/The Story of Fidgety Philip."

§Hoffmann added two additional stories to the previous seven for this edition: "Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft/The Story of Johnny Look-in-the-Air" and "Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert/The Story of Flying Robert."


Eva-Maria Metcalf (essay date December 1996)

SOURCE: Metcalf, Eva-Maria. "Civilizing Manners and Mocking Morality: Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter." Lion and the Unicorn 20, no. 2 (December 1996): 201-16.

[In the following essay, Metcalf identifies the unique thematic elements of Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter that helped revolutionize certain aspects of children's literature, particularly with regards to the picture book format.]

More than 150 years have passed since Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter was first published in Frankfurt (Germany). Although it is no longer the best known and most influential German picture book—a position it held for more than 100 years—Struwwelpeter can still fascinate its intended audience of preschoolers and demand the attention of scholars of children's literature. Its content matter and the pedagogical practice it represents are outdated at the close of the twentieth century, giving rise to occasional debates among child pedagogues about the advisability of presenting such a text to children. Its uniqueness and importance, however, do not lie in the message but in the manner in which this message is relayed—in other words, in its formal and stylistic elements which I will concentrate on in this article.

Struwwelpeter marks the beginning of modern picture book design through its interplay of picture and text, and it displays a blend of the popular and pedagogical, typical of the modern children's book. Nothing like it had existed before it appeared on the German market in 1845, at least not in this format and for this audience, and its immediate popularity and commercial success speaks to its extraordinariness and the timeliness of its appearance. By positioning Struwwelpeter within the framework of the time, place, and the specific circumstances of its creation and reception I will trace the innovative traits that have made it both famous and infamous.

Tradition, Influences, Innovation

In the mid-nineteenth century, educational messages of civility and obedience were the rule in a children's book, and in this regard Hoffmann's Struwwelpetermakes no exception. What sets Struwwelpeter apart, is the fact that the author took into consideration the mindset and desires of the young viewers and listeners as he created the book, and this fact contributed to its immense popularity. The education of his three-year-old son was the driving force behind Hoffmann's enterprise, but Hoffmann was no professional educator. He did, however, know the psyche of children well, and since he was artistically gifted and gregarious rather than pedantic by nature, he blithely disregarded traditional discursive practices in educational children's literature of his day and, as a result, radically changed the tone and format of the picture book.

Hoffmann did borrow the paradigm of the cautionary tale popular in children's literature at the time, but altered its presentation. He relied heavily on oral lore and popular culture, and he let himself be guided as much by what would fascinate the young as by what benefited them. Scholars have been able to trace most of the characters and situations portrayed in Struwwelpeter to images and stories already in circulation in the 1840s which Hoffmann may have—wittingly or unwittingly—used as his source of inspiration, such as the boy whose hair grows uncontrollably when he gets his hands on a certain hair pomade (1840, 1843), the girl in flames (1820, 1839), Nikolaus stuffing naughty children in his sack (1805, 1823), or the silly hunter (1820, 1835, 1840) (Der Struwwelpeter, 1983).

Hoffmann knew children were spellbound by fairy and fantasy tales like those collected by the Brothers Grimm, and fascinated by "Bilderbögen" (a sequence of simple colored pictures) and he was surely aware of the popularity of Punch and Judy shows for young and old. By using popular culture as a source of inspiration and by applying some of its tools and means of expression to children's literature, Hoffmann created a truly popular book and brought a breath of fresh air into the somewhat stuffy environment of mid-nineteenth-century children's literature. Like Pippi Longstocking exactly 100 years later, Struwwelpeter was immediately embraced by its intended audience. Children appreciated the drama and child-orientation of the stories as well as their anarchic spirit and grotesque exaggeration; and in the case of Struwwelpeter parents presumably appreciated the ease with which children swallowed the nicely wrapped educational message. In any case, both books became commercial success stories. Struwwelpeter could boast 500 editions by 1921 and was widely translated. Both books caused initial controversy among educators and critics but went on to become touchstones of children's literature. One more feature both books have in common, which I feel deserves attention, is the fact that they were initially not intended for publication but written only for the immediate family. Just like Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland, Struwwelpeter was created in an atmosphere of relative freedom, unencumbered by considerations of current discursive practices, conventions, and expectations within children's literature. Hoffmann thus avoided the self-censorship that might have constricted the creative process, had he intended it for publication. Incidentally, the lack of both innovation and success in the later children's books Hoffmann wrote, may have a great deal to do with this circumstance.

Moreover, Hoffmann, the concerned citizen, freethinker, and man of science, created Struwwelpeter in open opposition to what the bookstores in Frankfurt had to offer before Christmas in 1844, if we believe Hoffmann's later recollections about the impetus for the book. Hoffmann did not like the dry, educational pamphlets that were inherited from the Enlightenment, nor did he approve of the depthless and lifeless sweet Biedermeier representations and tableau of well-behaved children in happy family settings that were popular at the time. What he found lacking in these books was the consideration of a child's ability to approach text and illustration and, especially, a child's desire for drama and action. As a result, Hoffmann created a book himself that introduced two concepts fundamental for modern children's books, namely child orientation (i.e., an eye to the psyche of the child reader) and high entertainment value (an eye to the desires of the child reader), and he put both in the service of education.

The idea of education not only through reasoning and good example alone but by touching the senses and emotions was not new. Rousseau, no friend of bookish learning for the very young, wanted his Emile to learn by observation and experience initially, then suffer the natural consequences of his actions. Hoffmann, too, was guided by the philanthropist's urge to civilize rather than by the pedagogue's zeal to form and teach morals. In this context it is not unimportant to keep in mind that Hoffmann was a medical doctor, a dedicated scientist, and philanthropist who experienced the frailty of the human body and mind at close hand. (Hoffmann later became the head of a new, state-of-the-art insane asylum which he had backed and where he tried to introduce more modern and more humane treatments.)

His delight in playing with words and images, and experiences he had gathered as a medical doctor making house visits were vital for the creation of Struwwelpeter. During his examinations of terrified or restless children he had repeatedly diverted the small patients' attention by drawing figures—not unlike Struwwelpeter—letting their hairs and nails grow on paper to absurd lengths. Thus, already from its very inception Struwwelpeter was designed to draw attention, shock, dupe, and amuse. This book could hold the young listeners' and viewers' attention and engage them emotionally because dramas of everyday life with which they could readily identify were played out in front of their eyes in stark and easy-to-follow language and imagery. Children could thus relive vicariously the misdeeds of the fictional characters and (perhaps) learn from their experience. That, at least, was the intention. "Das Kind lernt einfach nur durch das Auge, und nur durch das, was es sieht, begreift es. Mit moralischen Vorschriften zumal weiß es gar nichts anzufangen," Hoffmann wrote (Kaufmann, "Der Struwwelpeter" 52). ("Children learn by means of perception only, they understand only what they see. Moral prescriptions they cannot handle.")

I agree with Jürgen Jahn and Hans Ries who argue that Struwwelpeter is first and foremost a "Zivilisationsbuch" (a civilizational book), in which the value of self-discipline, and self-constraint as well as respect and tolerance for the other are stressed. If we take a look at the educational messages of each of the episodes, we find in them rules of civility and common sense that applied to the nineteenth century—and some still apply today. Children are taught to stay neat and clean and impose a measure of self-discipline on themselves (Konrad, Zappelphilipp), they are taught not to tempt fate and be foolhearty (Paulinchen, der fliegende Robert), not to discriminate and abuse their status of power (Friederich, die schwarzen Buben) not to waste food (Suppenkasper), and generally, to pay attention and go through the world with open eyes (Hans Guck-in-die-Luft). The only episode that breaks that pattern is the hunter episode, which seems to have been written for pure amusement only. The nonsensical upside-down world of hare and hunter, in the tradition of the trickster tale, is a little out of place in this collection of cautionary tales. Yet in one regard it does fit in: all Struwwelpeter episodes were drawn and told with the intent to amuse the child, and in the cartoon-like exaggerations of "Paulinchen," "Zappelphilipp" and the other episodes a hint of revolt against conformity and complacency shines through. The civilizational message, however, remains at the core of text and illustrations. Hoffmann simply made it more effective by popularizing it. Just as Martin Luther had incorporated the speech patterns of the common people into his bible translation, Hoffmann incorporated topoi and narrative patterns from popular lore into his tale.


Struwwelpeter is made up of a collection of stories loosely held together by Hoffmann's narrative and artistic style, in which text and drawings are of equal weight and complement each other. The story unfolds step by step with relentless causality, focused on action, and presented with great effect without lingering on detail. With their dynamic and compelling simplicity the episodes spellbind even listeners with short attention spans.

Struwwelpeter was created at the time and in the spirit of late Romanticism in which the naive, the childish, and the popular were closely linked. It was also a time in which interest in and knowledge about child development and child psyche grew and fostered new ideas on how to best educate children (inspired by the works of Johann Bernhard Basedow and Heinrich Pestalozzi among others). These trends are reflected in Hoffmann's statement, "Das Buch soll ja märchenhafte, grausige, übertriebene Vorstellungen hervorrufen! Das germanische Kind ist aber nur das germanische Volk, und schwerlich werden diese National-Erzieher die Geschichte vom Rothkäppchen, das der Wolf verschluckt, vom Schneewittchen, das die böse Stiefmutter vergiftete, aus dem Volksbewußtsein und aus der Kinderstube vertilgen. Mit der absoluten Wahrheit, mit algebraischen oder geometrischen Sätzen rührt man aber keine Kinderseele, sondern läßt sie elend verkümmern" (Die Gartenlaube 17). ("The book is supposed to evoke fairytale-like, horrid, and exaggerated ideas! The Germanic child is nothing but the Germanic people, and these national educators will barely succeed in eradicating from the people's collective consciousness and the nurseries the stories about Little Red Riding Hood who is swallowed by the wolf, or about Snow White who was poisoned by her stepmother. You cannot touch a child's soul with the absolute truth, or with algebraic or geometrical propositions; instead, you will make it waste away miserably.")

Like the narrative in the Grimm's tales, Hoffmann's verse in Struwwelpeter is simple yet skillfully crafted. It flows in a predictable, even rhythm and is easy to remember. Hoffmann was aware of its quality. In the foreword to the 100th edition of Struwwelpeter from 1876 he mocks proud parents who parade the cleverness of their offspring by attributing to their intelligence the ease with which their children memorized the text. Instead he attributes it to the "glücklich getroffene plastische Diction" (Müller 157) ("the well-chosen graphic diction"). The verse is designed to be read aloud, it lives through the immediacy of the oral performance and through the directness of everyday speech. Hoffmann addresses his audience frankly and directly, pulling it into the action immediately, as he does in the Struwwelpeter tableau, which he—following popular demand—had moved from the back to the very front of the book, starting with the fifth edition: "Sieh einmal, hier steht er, Pfui! der Struwwelpeter!" ("Just look at him, here he stands, shame on Struwwelpeter!") or he keeps up the tension by predicting more exciting things to come as he does in "Zappelphilipp": "Seht, ihr lieben Kinder, seht, Wie's dem Philipp weiter geht!" ("Look, dear children, look what happens to Philipp next!") or he emphasizes his message by emphasizing the outcome in "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben" "Du siehst sie hier, wie schwarz sie sind,…" ("You can see them here, how black they are …") Looking at the text in its entirety, it is striking to what extent Hoffmann emphasizes the visual.

The beginning of the Konrad episode, "Konrad, sprach die Frau Mama …" seems to stick in the mind of all those who have grown up with Struwwelpeter, and, like a well-worn tune, must have rung true and sounded all too familiar to listeners and readers before the days of babysitters. Hoffmann follows closely the natural rhythm of the vernacular while effectively engaging the listeners. He painfully avoids all traces of poetic diction and the false, superficial sweetness so popular in the Biedermeier epoch or the condescending childishness found in many children's books from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Illustration and Total Design

In his drawings influences from popular culture can be felt as well. Hoffmann indulged in drawing social and political glosses and cartoons during his free time and became quite proficient at it. He adopted the same techniques for Struwwelpeter and thus made the book into a forerunner of comics and cartoons for children. The exaggeration of his cartoon-like drawings added a dimension of humor and action rare in children's books at that time. This affinity to popular culture in both text and illustration and Hoffmann's penchant for parody and satire endowed Struwwelpeter with the popular appeal it enjoyed for more than 100 years, and it inspired political satirists in Germany and abroad and illustrators of modern children's books alike. In an interview from 1978, Maurice Sendak acknowledges the effect Struwwelpeter had on him as a developing artist and calls it graphically "one of the most beautiful books in the world" (Meek 250). This praise from one of the great twentieth-century illustrators of children's books is to a large extent based on the expressive quality of the simple, naive drawings that conform to the emotional life of the young viewer and to Hoffmann's idiosyncrasy and originality of vision.

Praise such as this was not forthcoming in the mid-nineteenth century, when Hoffmann's illustrations were criticized. "Ja, man hat den Struwwelpeter großer Sünden bezichtigt. Da heißt es: "Das Buch verdirbt mit seinen Fratzen das ästhetische Gefühl des Kindes" (Kaufmann, "Der Struwwelpeter" 52; orig. Die Gartenlaube 770). ("Yes, Struwwelpeter has been accused of committing great sins. It is said, the book spoils the aesthetic sensitivity of the child.") With which he rebutted: "Nun gut, so erziehe man die Säuglinge in Gemäldegalerien oder in Cabineten mit antiken Gypsabdrücken! Aber man muß dann auch verhüten, daß das Kind sich selbst nicht kleine menschliche Figuren aus zwei Kreisen und vier geraden Linien in der bekannten Weise zeichne und glücklicher dabei ist, als wenn man ihm den Laokoon zeigt" (Die Gartenlaube 770). ("Well then, educate babies in art galleries and in museums filled with plaster reproductions of classical sculptures. But then you must also prevent children from drawing stick figures for themselves using two circles and four straight lines in the known fashion, and enjoying themselves more in the process than by being shown the Laokoon sculpture.") Do not artificially hasten the child's maturation process, let children be children and enjoy themselves, seems to be Hoffmann's verdict.

The billing of "drollige Geschichten" (droll stories) would be quite misleading were we to consider the text only. What pushes Paulinchen or Suppen-Kaspar into the realm of the absurd and hyperreal are the drawings. These naive, minimalist drawings play with language, by making concrete metaphors and similes from the accompanying verse. Thus, we see a smoking "Häuflein Asche" ("heap of ashes") surrounded by the brooks created by the cats' tears that flow "wie's Bächlein auf der Wiesen" ("like the brooks in the meadow"). The surreal element is heightened by the two red shoes untouched by fire or water.

Hoffmann knew—or at least sensed—why he insisted on keeping the naive style with cartoon-like elements when his manuscript went to print if we compare his tailor scene to later ones drawn in a more naturalist style. As Walter Sauer (1985) has shown, Hoffmann adopted the somewhat more concrete style of the illustrator of the Russian Struwwelpeter version for the fifth edition in Germany which is the standard version today, but despite the somewhat more concrete settings the illustrations still remain sufficiently in the realm of the timeless and abstract. The cartoon-like nature of the drawings helps readers keep fiction and reality apart, although some three-year-olds may still be scared rather than amused by the tailor storming in with huge scissors ready to cut off Konrad's thumbs. In any case, these dynamic pictures definitely provide plenty of thrill and excitement for the young audience.

Hoffmann scoffed at the scientific dryness of illustrations of children's books as well as at artistic pretense. As he tell us in his memoirs (Lebenserinnerungen), he noticed that drawings such as that of tables and chairs, pots and pans indicating proportions of true sizes (1/3, 1/8, or 1/10 the size) which he had found in one of the books he had looked at, totally failed to take the child's mindset and cognitive capability into consideration (see Ziersch 61). Hoffmann's drawings speak to the senses instead of the intellect. In his drawings sizes are determined by the importance and emotional value invested in the figures as befits the naive style. Exaggeration of size and gesture thus becomes an integral part of Hoffmann's technique. The whirlwind speed with which the tailor enters to cut off Konrad's thumbs and the disproportionate size of his gaping scissors leaves no doubt about the immanent danger. Hoffmann was also the first to discover the possibilities of drama and excitement for the reader or viewer that goes along with turning the page (see Ries, "Der Struwwelpeter" 17). Nothing on the previous page prepares the viewer for the impact of the giant Nikolaus, who looks like he means business and does in fact mete out the punishment with resolve.

Ambiguous Message

Hoffmann was politically aware and became actively involved as a member of the Pauls Church parliament in 1948. A liberal cosmopolitan, he did not mind mocking the narrow-minded and self-satisfied Spießbürger morality in Struwwelpeter as well, thereby subverting the cautionary tale's behavioral message. A certain ambiguity of message is apparent in the last illustration of the Konrad episode, showing Konrad with both thumbs cut off standing underneath a smiling face that has replaced the initially frowning one above the door frame. Similarly we find it in the cowardice of the hunter or the stupid consternation of Zappelphilipp's parents when the table is suddenly cleared of china and food along with the tablecloth.

The satire published in the Fliegende Blätter in 1848 that warns the public about the revolutionary threat lurking in Struwwelpeter was, as behooves a satire, gross exaggeration, but there is always a kernel of truth hidden behind warnings such as these: "Wir erfüllen eine traurige, aber hohe Pflicht, wenn wir, spät vielleicht, hoffentlich jedoch nicht zu spät, das deutsche Volk auf diese neue, seinen nächsten und wichtigsten Interessen drohende Gefahr aufmerksam machen, und eine in kurzer Zeit mit überraschendem Erfolge verbreitete Kinderschrift den "Struwwelpeter" als ein Pamphlet der revolutionären Propaganda vor dem Gerichte der öffentlichen Meinung denunzieren. An Euch, deutsche Mütter, dies Wort der Mahnung: werft den Struwwelpeter, wo er sich findet, zum Hause hinaus!" (129). ("We are fulfilling a sad but important duty—late perhaps, but hopefully not too late—calling the German people's attention to this new danger threatening its most vital interests, and we hereby denounce a children's story in front of the court of public opinion that has gained surprising popularity within a short period of time—the 'Struwwelpeter'—as a pamphlet of revolutionary propaganda. To you, German mothers, this word of warning: throw Struwwelpeter out of your homes whenever you find it!")

Why should German mothers throw out Struwwelpeter if it instructs children in civility and obedience? Why is the issue raised at all? Because indoctrination is not the whole picture. The instruction could also go in the direction of civil disobedience. Struwwelpeter and his fictional companions may incur severe consequences from their actions, but, with the exception of Konrad, they are not subdued or maimed. Their demise may be presented in gory detail, but Hoffmann does not conjure up the shame-filled, penitent, and born-again child or paragons of virtue, as did contemporary cautionary tales and many Struwwelpeter imitations during the following decades, such as Struwwelpeter's Reu und Bekehrung.

Struwwelpeter is also light-years apart from Die Geschichte der Struwwel-Liese oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder für Kinder in which Lieschen, who had stopped praying at night, reverts to her prayers after Nikolaus suddenly appears with uplifted rod and threatens to use it. When Lieschen sneaks some cake without permission the rod is used on her by her mother after she recovers from the indigestion caused by the "debauchery." For it is clearly not enough for the pedagogical zeal that informs Struwwel-Liese that Lieschen suffer the pain and humiliation of the natural consequences resulting from her misdeeds—which incidentally are highly exaggerated, for she has to spend two weeks in bed.

In Struwwelpeter punishment is generally not meted out by adult educators or authority figures but appears to be a natural result of the child's actions. There are however exceptions to the absence of punishing authority figures. The tailor enters the scene to cut off Konrad's thumbs and there is the equally deus ex machina appearance and action of Nikolaus in the story about the boys poking fun at the black moor because of his skin color. At least in the case of Nikolaus the character of the punishment is not primarily vindictive but seems in line with the dictum that children should learn from experience. Dipped in ink, the boys will experience the ridicule of their surrounding and, most likely, that of the young readers as well. Whether they (or the readers) will be wiser and more tolerant as a consequence of their experience is left untold. In this openness and ambiguity lies the continued fascination of Struwwelpeter. The open ending of the concluding episode about Flying Robert, whom we hear will eventually bump into the sky but whose fate we can only imagine, is indicative of Hoffmann's unwillingness to subdue the protagonists' spirit of adventure with their need to conform (except in the case of Konrad).

There is no doubt about the educational message on the surface and Hoffmann's desire to socialize and civilize the readers, but underneath the surface the spirit of revolt is given free range to interfere with the "official" message, since Hoffmann's fictional characters model the possibility of resistance, in the case of Suppenkaspar and Paulinchen at the cost of self-destruction. Even Otto Gmelin, a prominent German children's literature critic of the antiauthoritarian movement after 1968, a movement that severely condemned bourgeois disciplinarian education epitomized in Struwwelpeter, acknowledges that in Struwwelpeter the "Erziehung zum Untertanengeist" (education to subservience) is undermined by "Antieffekte" (Gemlin 30).

The vicarious experience of resistance and rebellion has without doubt endeared Struwwelpeter to many children, and it must have had some appeal to the adults as well. After all, adults produce, edit, choose, buy, and read books for children, and their likes and approval play an important part in the equation, too. Struwwelpeter as a frontispiece could not have been altogether out of place at a time when revolution was in the air. Struwwelpeter soon became a widely known symbolic figure connoting rebellion and was even used in this context by Heinrich Hoffmann himself.

In the final analysis, the effect of Struwwelpeter is far from predictable or measurable, I believe, since the reception is contingent upon the personality, conditioning, and environment of each individual child. To the toddler who has not yet learned to distinguish fully fiction from reality, Hoffmann's characters may still present a real threat. In an environment and a context in which children are brought up with strict discipline and the word "pfui" evokes strong feelings of shame in the reader, Struwwelpeter will be understood very differently than in today's environment of more permissive childrearing. Thus, we can safely assume that Struwwelpeter's educational message must have been quite effective when it was read as an integral part of the strict disciplinarian upbringing many German children experienced during the latter part of the 19th and the early decades of the 20th century, regardless of the subliminal enjoyment children may have derived from its presentation.

The specific combination of qualities that Heinrich Hoffmann brought to his authorship: a free and critical spirit, knowledge and understanding of the child's psyche, and a love and respect of popular culture in its manifold expression from fairy tale to political caricature, made Struwwelpeter a touchstone in German children's literature. In a permissive society oversaturated with entertainment, where values have become relativized, behavioral codes are of lesser importance, where food is thrown away by the tons daily, dreadlocks are fashionable, and where soap and shampoo commercials have taken over the role of preachers of personal cleanliness, Struwwelpeter has become a cultural icon devoid of its original meaning, message, and connotations, ready to become part of the postmodern play of allusions. Parodies of the original like F. K. Waechter's Anti-Struwwelpeter or Christine Nöstlinger's Konrad have turned into parodies of parodies or parodies of more recent educational practices, such as Christine Nöstlinger's Einen Löffel für den Papa, Einen Löffel für die Mama, Einen Löffel für die Oma, Einen Löffel für den Opa, Jeder Löffel für die Katz! or pure nonsense tales like Martin Auer's story about the Crocodile who did not want to eat any spinach ("Vom Krokodil, das keinen Spinat mochte") (Auer 18). In Manfred Bofinger's picture book Haps! (1994) the Struwwelpeter episodes have also dissolved into nonsense. The story number five about Frida who does not want to eat her chocolate doll is a case in point:

    Das kleine Mädchen Frieda Suppe
    liebt ihre Schokoladenpuppe:
    "Ich esse meine Puppe nicht!
    Nein! Meine Puppe eß ich nicht!"
    Und Frieda Suppe wird verehrt
    vom Kannibalenknaben Gerd:
    "Ich esse Frieda Suppe nicht!
    Nein! Frieda Suppe eß ich nicht!"

(The translation here is rendered without rhyme. In German the jingle calls forth immediate associations with the original Struwwelpeter verse: The Little girl Frida soup, loves her chocolate doll, "I won't eat my doll, no, I won't eat it." And Frida is loved by the cannibal boy Gerd who says: "I won't eat Frida, no I won't eat her!")

The image of the middle-aged Struwwelpeter from the same picture book seems symptomatic of the Struwwelpeter reception in the late twentieth century. From revolting youngster Struwwelpeter has grown into a bald family father, his loss of hair connoting his loss of wildness, revolt, and power. But the cycle of resistance and revolt is not broken, for Struwwelpeter is surrounded by his Struwwelpeter-wife and Struwwelpeter-offspring (five in all instead of the six the accompanying text talks about), all adorned with long nails and wild hair crowning their heads like halos, who are still munching happily on the last hairs from their father's head that have sustained them through hard times.


Hoffmann acknowledged this function in the little poem he wrote for "die Gesellschaft in den Katakomben" (the name for his get-togethers with friends and like-minded compatriots), "Auch der Struwwelpeter wäre // Aufgenommen worden kühler // Wär er ein Vorläufer nicht // Aller Roten, aller Wühler" (Hoffmann Katalog, 1987).

Works Cited

Ashton, Susanna and Amy Jean Petersen. "Fetching the Jingle Along: Mark Twain's Slovenly Peter." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 20.1 (1995): 36-41.

Auer, Martin. Was niemand wissen kann. Seltsame Verse und sonderbare Geschichten. Weinheim and Basel: Beltz, 1986.

Bader, Barbara. American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to The Beast Within. New York: Macmillan, 1976.

Bofinger, Manfred. Haps: das Menschenfresserbuch. Frankfurt: Eichborn, 1994.

Dingelstedt, Franz. "Der Struwwelpeter als Radikaler. Keine Denunciation, sondern eine Warnung." Eds. Kaspar Braun and Friedrich Schneider. Fliegende Blätter 6, 137 (1848): 129-31.

Doderer, Klaus. Klassische Kinder- und Jugendbücher. Kritische Betrachtungen. Weinheim, Berlin and Basel: Verlag Julius Beltz, 1969.

Gmelin, Otto F. Böses aus Kinderbüchern und ein roter Elefant. 2nd ed. Frankfurt: Haag & Herchen Verlag, 1977.

Hlawacek, Adelheid. 150 Jahre Struwwelpeter. Ausstellungskatalog NÖ: Museum für Volkskultur, 1995.

Hoffmann, Heinrich. Lebenserinnerungen. Frankfurt: Insel-Verlag, 1985.

――――――. Slovenly Peter, or Cheerful Stories and Funny Pictures. From the twenty-third edition of the celebrated German work of Dr. Henry Hoffmann. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Co., approx. 1900.

――――――. Der Struwwelpeter. With afterword by Andreas Bode. München: arsEdition, 1994.

――――――. Struwwelpeter. Illus. Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. London: John Gilford, 1950.

――――――. Der Struwwelpeter. Reprint of original manuscript. Neustadt: Meininger Verlag, 1987.

Hoffmann-Donner, H. "Vom Struwwelpeter. Ein Brief an die Redaktion der Gartenlaube." Die Gartenlaube 1 (1893): 17-19.

Heinrich-Hoffmann-Museum der frankfurter werkgemeinschaft e.V. ed. Der Struwwelpeter. Entstehung eines berühmten Kinderbuchs. Frankfurt: Heinrich Hoffmann Museum, 1983.

Jahn, Jürgen. "Struwwelpeter und sein Autor." Beiträge zur Kinder-und Jugendliteratur 74 (1985): 21-33.

Kaufmann, Torsten. "Der Struwwelpeter—Vorläufer einer künstlerischen Avantgarde oder dilettantische Spielerei?" Eds. Detlef Hoffmann and Jens Thiele. Künstler illustrieren Bilderbücher. Oldenburg: Bibliothek- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1986.

――――――. "Heinrich Hoffmanns unkonventionelle Ausdrucksmöglichkeiten. Der Struwwelpeter-Eine künstlerische Alternative?" Fundevogel 29 (1986): 10-13.

Lütje, Dr. J. Die Struwwel-Liese oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder für Kinder. 40th ed. Illus. F. Maddalena. Hamburg: G. Fritsche Verlag, ca. 1893.

Meek, Margaret, Aidan Warlow, and Griselda Barton, eds. The Cool Web. The Pattern of Children's Reading. New York: Atheneum, 1978.

Müller, Helmut. "'Struwwelpeter' und Struwwelpetriaden." Eds. Klaus Doderer and Helmut Müller. Das Bilderbuch. Geschichte und Entwicklung des Bilderbuchs in Deutschland von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Weinheim and Basel: Beltz, 1973.

Nöstlinger, Christine. Einen Löffel für den Papa, Einen Löffel für die Mama, Einen Löffel für die Oma, Einen Löffel für den Opa, Jeder Löffel für die Katz! Wien: Jugend & Volk, 1989.

――――――. Konrad oder Das Kind aus der Konservenbüchse. Hamburg: Oetinger, 1975.

Ries, Hans. "Der Struwwelpeter." Révolution, Restauration er les Jeunes 1789–1848. Ecrits et images (94-102). Metz: Didier Erudition 1986.

――――――. "Vor und nach dem Struwwelpeter." In Ziersch.

Sauer, Walter. "Der Struwwelpeter und Stepka-Rastrepka. Zur Ikonographie der 2. Struwwelpeterfassung." Die Schiefertafel 8 (1985): 24-34.

Struwwelpeters Reu und Bekehrung. Facsimile Edition Leipzig, 1985; orig. 1851.

Waechter, F. K. Der Anti-Struwwelpeter. Darmstadt: Melzer, 1973.

Winterbauer, Eva Ulrike, dir. Struwwelpeter & Co. Deutsche Welle program, 1994.

Ziersch, Amélie, ed. Bilderbuch-Begleiter der Kindheit. Katalog zur Ausstellung über die Entwicklung des Bilderbuchs in drei Jahrhunderten. München: Museum Villa Stuck, 1986.

Zipes, Jack. "Down with Heidi, Down with Struwwelpeter, Three Cheers for the Revolution." Children's Literature 5 (1976): 162-80.

Jack Zipes (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Zipes, Jack. "The Perverse Delight of Shockheaded Peter." In Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, pp. 147-69. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2001.

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Jack Zipes (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: Zipes, Jack. "Down with Heidi, Down with Struwwelpeter, Three Cheers for the Revolution: Towards a New Socialist Children's Literature in West Germany." Children's Literature 5 (1976): 162-80.

[In the following essay, Zipes examines how children's literature in the former state of West Germany had, in 1976, begun to evolve past such classic antecedents of German children's literature as Heidi and Struwwelpeter towards a new socialist model.]

Ever since the rise of the student movement in West Germany during the late 1960s, there has been a growing interest in socialist children's literature. Radical students quickly recognized that the struggle against arbitrary authority as a manifestation of monopoly capitalism would be a long one and that the power of authority not only lay in the control of the government and economic process but was also deeply rooted in the control over child rearing and the education system.1 In fact, a large segment of the New Left soon sought to recover its links to the rich socialist tradition of the 1920s to gain a better perspective on the present. Students and professors alike turned to studying psychology (Wilhelm Reich, Vera Schmidt, Max Adler, Siegfried Bernfeld) and progressive pedagogy (Makarenko, Otto Rühle, Edwin Hoernle, Otto Kanitz) in order to locate stages where critical and creative thinking might be instilled which would lead to the development of socialist individuals—that is, people who would grow to become masters of their own destiny and history in a morally and socially responsible manner. The formation of socialist daycare centers, women's groups, youth centers, and university workshops led to the production of significant new studies about children's education and culture.2 Most important, it brought about the production of new materials which could be used to further socialist education.

The progress in children's education has been remarkable. Not only have there been innovative research studies exploring child psychology, literature, theater, play, and schooling, all of which have led to the development of concrete forms of emancipatory cooperation, but the new fiction that has risen has begun to alter and challenge the more conservative children's books which have dominated the market. Since the upsurge of an expressly socialist children's literature is almost unique among Western capitalist countries, it is important that we take note of it, for the transformation of children's literature in West Germany can open possibilities for a richer children's literature in America. Certainly it will call our traditional views into question. Since it is extremely difficult to give a complete historical picture of the far-reaching changes in West German children's literature, I shall limit myself to a discussion of three major points: (1) the socialist critique of the classics, particularly Heidi and Struwwelpeter; (2) the production of new anti-authoritarian and socialist books by three different, representative publishing houses, Basis, Weismann, and Rowohlt; (3) the prospects for a new socialist children's literature.

The Socialist Critique of Classical German Children's Literature

The term "classical" is a difficult one to define, especially when discussing children's literature, since children do not determine what books they want to read, nor are they encouraged to evaluate and produce them. Classical children's books are essentially those standard works which have been selected by adults in part of a historical socialization process, and therefore they correspond greatly to the aesthetic tastes and moral standards of a particular adult world. For the most part, they convey a distinct image of the world to children and foster the ideological hegemony of ruling-class interests. Looked at from a historical-materialist point of view, classical children's books are vital instruments in the formation of class consciousness, aesthetic sensibility, and character structure.

It is clear that not every classical children's book serves repressive ends. Nor is there a conscious plan to produce books which nullify the potential for creativity and critical thinking in children. Every children's book must be looked at historically to determine its real aesthetic and ideological value. Here many factors must be taken into consideration. Generally speaking, a book for children should aim to render a clear and interesting picture of an epoch or topic with all its contradictions and speak to children's problems truthfully so that they can learn to master these problems and develop their own identity. The communicative function of the language and images should help the child improve his or her learning ability and creative potential. Restricted codes and closed reference systems should be avoided. Each new book should try to incorporate the most recent pedagogical and psychological discoveries about education and society in order to increase the emancipatory value of the book. By this I mean that the structure and contents of a children's book should be geared, no matter how fantastic the subject matter and style, toward helping children understand how to work together to free their own individual talents and to overcome obstacles which may be preventing their free development. In this respect the entire question of book production and the reception of a book must be reconsidered to include the participation of children in the entire process. Ultimately, if this is done, the term classical will take on another, more authentic meaning.

No doubt, some classical books deserve their status because they were written to speak, and continue to speak, to children's real needs. Most have unfortunately retained classical status because they are still useful in the indoctrination of children to the standards of a ruling class and also serve the market needs of the book industry. It is from this historical-materialist perspective, then, one which corresponds to the socialist critique of the New Left in West Germany,3 that I shall be using the term classical, and here the two books Struwwelpeter and Heidi are perfect models of the classical German children's book. Not only have all children in German-speaking countries from the late nineteenth century to the present been predominantly influenced by these two books, but children in America as well.

Struwwelpeter was written in 1844 by the physician Heinrich Hoffmann, who could not find an appropriate book for his three-year-old son and decided to write his own, based on stories he used to tell his young patients to prevent them from becoming disruptive and getting upset.4 Soon after the book was published in 1845, it grew in popularity. Up through 1974 there have been over six hundred different German editions and numerous translations, not to mention the hundreds of imitations and parodies. There is hardly a German adult or child who does not know that Struwwelpeter is everything one is not supposed to become, the model of the disobedient child who never cuts his fingernails and lets his hair grow wild—in short, a barbarian. The rhymed, illustrated stories which follow our introduction to him present a composite picture of Struwwelpeter: evil Peter, who tortures animals and people with a whip, and who is finally bitten by a dog and put to bed; little Pauline, who plays with matches and burns herself to death; three boys who make fun of a Negro and are then dipped in black ink as punishment by a stern adult; the wild hunter, who loses his rifle and is shot by a rabbit; Konrad the thumb-sucker, who has his thumbs cut off because he persists in sucking; Kaspar, who wastes away to nothing because he refuses to eat his soup; Phillip, who is smothered by a tablecloth because he will not sit still at the table; Robert, who goes out into a storm and is carried away forever by a huge wind; Hans, who never watches where he walks and almost drowns while walking near a pond. All the stories are written to frighten the young reader, and the illustrations are correspondingly gruesome and terrifying. (Adults generally find them comical.) Only one of the stories involves a little girl. As always, the assumption is made that little girls are more docile and obedient than little boys, who are terrors. Hoffmann's picture of what a little boy is and how he should be treated is an accurate reflection of the general Biedermeier (Victorian) attitude toward children: "Little children are to be seen, not heard," and if they are heard, they are to be punished severely.

The danger of Struwwelpeter and its imitations stems from the fact that it can be easily comprehended by children from age two on and has indeed stamped the consciousness of German children for generations.5 To a great extent, it reflects a peculiar hostility to children (what Germans call Kinderfeindlichkeit)6 which has been a disturbing element in the history of German civilization. Struwwelpeter glorifies obedience to arbitrary authority, and in each example the children are summarily punished by the adult world. No clear-cut reasons are given for the behavior or the punishment; discipline is elevated above curiosity and creativity. It is not by chance, then, that this book has retained its bestseller, classical status to the present. Whether it will be superseded by the most recent parody, Der Anti-Struwwelpeter by Friedrich Karl Waechter, will depend on the general development of the new socialist children's literature.7

Heidi, Lehr- und Wanderjahre was written by the Swiss author Johanna Spyri in 1880.8 Again, we are dealing with a classic that has gone through hundreds of editions and translations and has had an international effect difficult to measure. In addition, there have been several film versions. In 1937, Shirley Temple played Heidi in a sentimental Hollywood production. The other films were made in 1951 (Swiss), 1965 (Austrian), and 1967 (German-American, with Michael Redgrave and Maximilian Schell). There have also been records, an opera, and an American musical based on the book. Like Struwwelpeter, Heidi is a conservative product of the nineteenth century which has been kept very much alive in the twentieth. Spyri, a devout Christian, projects a vision of a harmonious world which can only be held together by Judeo-Christian ethics and God himself. Briefly, her story concerns a five-year-old orphan, Heidi, who is sent to live on top of a Swiss mountain with her grandfather, a social outcast. After three years, her aunt, who works in Frankfurt, comes to fetch her so that she can become a companion to a rich little girl who is crippled. Both the aunt and the rest of the Swiss village think it will be better for Heidi, for they have a low opinion of the grandfather and feel that Heidi needs to be educated. For the grandfather, who has come to love Heidi deeply, this is a devastating blow, and he becomes more of a misanthrope. In Frankfurt, Heidi turns a wealthy bourgeois household upside down with her natural ways, which are contrasted with the artificial and decadent ways of the city people. Nevertheless, she endears herself to the grandmother, Klara the cripple, the businessman father, and their servants. Only the governess and teacher cannot grasp her "wild" ways. Eventually, Heidi becomes homesick for the mountains, and Klara's grandmother tells her to have faith in God, who will always help her. Indeed, as Heidi begins to wane, God interferes in the person of the doctor, who advises the businessman to return Heidi to the grandfather. When Heidi is sent back to the mountains, the grandfather is ecstatic and becomes convinced that it was an act of God which brought about the return of his granddaughter. In this sense, Heidi is God's deputy and reconciles the grandfather to the rest of the community.

Although there are abridged versions for younger children, Heidi was essentially written for the child ten and over. Quite opposite to Struwwelpeter, it concerns the experiences of a little girl, who is made into some kind of an extraordinary angel, a nature child with holy innocence, incapable of doing evil, gentle, loving, and kind. At first, she does not comprehend the world, but as she grows, everything is explained to her according to the accepted social and religious norms of the day. Here it is important to see the pedagogical purpose of the narrative and its dependence on the traditional Bildungsroman. Heidi learns that the world is static and directed by God. Although she is disturbed that her grandfather and relatives are poor and must struggle merely to subsist, the grandmother in Frankfurt brings her to believe that God wants it that way and that material poverty is insignificant when one considers the real meaning of richness: to be rich means possessing faith in God and behaving like a good Christian—that is, making sacrifices to benefit the wealthy and looking forward to paradise in the world hereafter. While the simple, pious community of the Swiss village is contrasted with the false, brutal life in the city, Spyri does nothing to explain the real contradictions between city and country. The hard life in the Swiss mountains becomes idyllic. There the people are pure and closer to God. The world of Switzerland caters to the escapist tendencies of readers who might seek release from the perplexing, difficult conditions of urban life. Heidi, too, is a figure of the infantile, regressive fantasy which desires a lost innocence that never was. Since natural equals Christian in this book, there is no way in which children can comprehend what really is a natural or socially conditioned drive.9 Nevertheless, Heidi, like Struwwelpeter, has taken on a classical existence that has become more lifelike than that of real Heidis, and she continues to serve as a (dubious) model for young readers. In both instances, the classical stature of the books is closely linked to their commodity value.

Anti-Authoritarian and Socialist Children's Literature

It is in opposition to classical books like Struwwelpeter and Heidi and in keeping with broad socialist goals that books like Waechter's Der Anti-Struwwelpeter10 have come into existence. Since the recent production of anti-authoritarian and socialist children's literature depends heavily on the policies of collectives and publishing firms, three typical organizations and their products will serve as examples to illustrate the general tendencies in this field. The three are Basis, Weismann, and Rowohlt.

Basis Verlag, like Oberbaum and Das rote Kinderbuch,11 developed from a collective which worked in daycare and youth centers during the late 1960s and has continued this work, largely in Berlin. The members of Basis are socialists, who see their task as preparing the base for a new socialist society. Their main emphasis is on the production of books for children between the ages of four and twelve, although they have also produced a comic book and photographic story for apprentices who work in factories.12 To date, they have published over fourteen books for children, all of which tend to deal with the contemporary scene and social conditions in a realistic manner. In 1973 they also began publishing a complementary series of theoretical studies which either demonstrate how to use their own children's books or deal with general problems such as the ideological contents of pictures and illustrations and the real meaning of comic book heroes.13

The Basis books for children were developed at a time when the anti-authoritarian phase of the New Left was coming to an end in West Germany—that is, the phase when arbitrary authority was defied for the sake of defying authority. Though there are some anti-authoritarian elements in Basis books, their main goal is to demonstrate how working collectively can lead to a greater sense of oneself and the world and to the resolution of problems confronting children in their everyday lives. Six of the works written between 1970 and 1974 will give an example of the aims and production methods of the Basis Verlag: Die Geschichte von der Verjagung und Ausstopfung des Königs (The Story about How the King Was Chased Out and Stuffed); Zwei Korken für Schlienz (Two Corks for Schlienz); Krach auf Kohls Spielplatz (Trouble at Kohl's Playground); Die Kleine Ratte kriegt es raus (The Little Rat Gets to the Bottom of Things); Krokodil (Crocodile); and Die Krügelsteiner und die Räuber (The People of Krügelstein and the Robbers).

Die Geschichte von der Verjagung und Ausstopfung des Königs is introduced by a statement telling how the book was produced: "Karin wrote the story for you. Then we called up our friends and asked them if they would like to dress up and play a knight, poet, king, or bear. And when they all said yes, then we acted out the entire story, and Ute photographed us. Dieter and Reiner printed the pictures and the story, and in the end, the bookbinders made the book into a real book."14 The statement also says that Mome painted the bear into the pictures and asks the readers to send in their comments. The story concerns two poets who want to write a book for children but really don't know children all that well. Both think up traditional stories: one deals with a bear who is big and strong and goes fishing, and the other, with a loyal knight who departs to fight for his king. The two stories come together as the bear meets the knight in the woods. They decide to go play with the children in the local neighborhood (set in the present) instead of fishing and fighting. The poets become angry that their heroes have abandoned their traditional roles and story-lines and go searching for them. They come across some knights who, sent by the king to fight against the peasants, have been soundly defeated. The poets complain that this normally does not happen in stories, but the knights argue that something is wrong with the usual stories since the peasants had never harmed them—that is, until the king had sent them to destroy the peasants. They all decide to turn against the king, and with the help of the bear, the loyal knight, and the children, they capture the king, stuff him, and set him up as a monument in a park as a warning to all monarchs. The country then belongs to everyone and is renamed country of the knights, peasants, poets, bears, and children. Here the traditional manner of telling fairy tales which glorify feudalism is criticized in a novel way. The subtle use of photographs and comics adds to the Brechtian estrangement effect, which prompts children to think critically and creatively throughout the story. The main difficulty with the narrative is that the social message and aesthetic innovations are perhaps too complex for a child to understand alone.

In the second edition of Zwei Korken für Schlienz, the collective states that changes were made in keeping with the criticism of children. This story uses only photographs and combines elements from well-known folktales to illustrate housing problems in the city. Four young people (all in their twenties) decide to live together: Schlienz, who can smell extraordinarily well; Minzl, who can hear long distances; Gorch, who can run faster than cars; and Atta, who is tremendously strong. They rent an apartment, and the landlord tries to cheat them. However, they are too smart for him, and ultimately they set up a collective household which runs smoothly until the landlord raises the rent arbitrarily. The four decide to organize the tenants in the entire building to fight and protest the hike in rent, and they use their extraordinary talents to unite the tenants and take over the building. However, since the people come from different classes (a teacher, bank clerk, metal worker, insurance inspector, and railroad worker) and have different interests, the landlord is able to play upon the divisiveness in the coalition and, with the help of the police, defeat the strike. Schlienz, Minzl, Gorch, and Atta are arrested. Nevertheless, while in prison, they reconsider their strategy and make plans so that they can be successful the next time they try to organize the tenants. The book closes with a series of newspaper articles about landlords cheating tenants. The photographs in this story combine humor with accurate depictions of housing conditions. The remarkable talents of the heroes are not so fantastic that they might lead children to have unreal expectations of their own powers. The fact that the four heroes (two men and two women) do not succeed shows to what extent the authors clearly understand the stage of the social struggle within the cities. Here the emphasis is not so much on gaining a victory but on creating a sense of need for collective action.

A similar story for somewhat older children, Die Kleine Ratte kriegt es raus, deals with Renate Müller, about ten, who does not understand why her father, a sanitation worker, earns less than Doctor Gruschwitz, the father of a friend, nor why she and her family must live in such cramped quarters compared to the huge apartment of the Gruschwitzes. When she goes on a quest to find out the answers, information about salaries, work conditions, rents, and social classes is conveyed to her and, of course, to the readers. This information is incorporated into the story through questions, comics, photographs, and charts. After numerous adventures, Renate and two friends come across two young factory workers who spend time with them to clarify everything and who explain that the social contradictions can only be overcome by workers who learn to trust one another and cooperate to take over the means of production. Only through this type of action will the social disparities that confront Renate during the day be eliminated.

Krach auf Kohls Spielplatz is for three-year-olds. Andrea is troubled by Theo Kohl, who controls the playground because his father is rich and owns the construction company which employs most of the parents living in the housing settlement and neighborhood. Theo manages to bribe Joachim, the strongest boy, with candy to act as "law enforcer"—that is, until Andrea and the other children get together and unite to defeat Theo and Joachim and set up mutually beneficial rules of play. Though the book is instructive in pointing out the link between a bully and the possession of money, the language and pictures of the story are so devoid of imagination that the message will have only a minimal effect upon young readers.

This is not the case with Krokodil, written for and by five-year-olds. The book is a sort of documentary children's story, for it is based on a newspaper article about seven African children, who save one of their comrades with their bare hands from being devoured by a crocodile. When the article was read to children in a preschool class and then discussed, the children reacted positively to the manner in which the African children united to protect their friend from the crocodile at the risk of their own lives. At one point the teacher introduced the idea of doing a picture book about this story together. The children were skeptical since they knew nothing about book production, but the teacher explained how books were put together and encouraged the children so that they realized it was possible to make their own book. After the children drew pictures and helped compose a text, they selected which pictures were to appear as illustrations. The result: a unique book, with startling, colorful, and concrete pictures about collective action which reinforces not only the concept of solidarity but displays as well how the collective skills of children can be practically put to use to develop their own awareness of socially responsible action.

Die Krügelsteiner und die Räuber, written by Jochen Unbehauen for six-year-olds, develops this theme in an amusing tale with colorful illustrations by Günther Schwartz that correspond to each dramatic situation and are edifying at the same time. Krügelstein is a tiny village tucked away in the mountains and inhabited by three families who make pottery and sell their wares once a week in a town in order to support themselves. For the three children of the families, Franz, Alois, and Maria, Krügelstein is boring, at least until three robbers arrive to terrorize the village. Since there is no money to steal, the robbers decide to force the Krügelsteiners to produce more pottery so that there will be a surplus to provide them with money and luxuries. However, the robbers soon realize that they will have to organize production differently and build machines if the Krügelsteiners are to increase their productivity. They invent new ways to improve production and distribution, and the Krügelsteiners learn a great deal and triple their output. Yet, they are not happy because all the profits go to the robbers, who use their weapons to intimidate the villagers. Finally, the children, who are also forced to labor in a manner which they dislike, devise a plan to capture the robbers. They succeed, and instead of sending the robbers to jail, the Krügelsteiners teach the robbers how to make pottery and begin to take advantage of the new socialized means of production which will enable them to share and enjoy their work in such a way that their living conditions in general will be improved. The remarkable feature of this story is that it explains the aspects of robbery stemming from capitalist production in a concrete, humorous manner without becoming heavily theoretical. Not only does the critique of the robbers' capitalist exploitative methods stem naturally from the forced working conditions of the Krügelsteiners, but the positive gains of socialized production brought about by the robbers are also shown to be necessary for the Krügelsteiners' welfare. When these socialized means of production are taken over by the Krügelsteiners collectively, they become more liberated and happy. The clear descriptions and explicit language of the narrative enhance the emancipatory value of this story, which is geared toward enabling young readers to understand the work process as a form of liberation.

Generally speaking, Basis books are directly related to the actual class struggles in West Germany. The major figures are from the working class, and the contents of the stories are, broadly speaking, of utmost concern to the underprivileged in society and lead to developing class consciousness. Some of the stories tend to be too didactic as if the significance of the message itself were enough to strike the imagination of children. Obviously, this is a failing which Basis of late has been attempting to rectify. For the most part, the language of the books is vigorous and blunt; colloquialisms and curses are used because children are accustomed to hearing them in their surroundings—used to explain their surroundings. The authors do not talk down to the children. They employ a great deal of irony in the depictions, and the techniques of photography, comics, and montage dialectically enhance the communicability of the theory. The books are children's books in that the production is geared to a child's standpoint and in that children often participate in the production. At the same time, the books also transcend the category of "children" or "childish," for adults can learn and enjoy in producing and reading them.

The books of Weismann Verlag15 also point in this direction. A socialist collective which is not as active as the Basis Verlag in day-care and youth centers, the Weismann group has published over ten books, mainly by teenagers. The Weismann books are not as directly concerned with immediate German social problems. One book, Herr Bertolt Brecht sagt (Mr. Bertolt Brecht Says, 1970), is a collection of anecdotes, stories, and poems by Brecht. Another book, Kinderstreik in Santa Nicola (The Children's Strike in Santa Nicola, 1970) by Günter Feustel, deals with the exploitation of Italian children in the farm region of Sicily. Russische Kindheit (Russian Childhood, 1972) by Arkadi Gaidar, a well-known author of children's books, is an autobiographical account of his experiences as a boy during the Russian Revolution. Eltern Spielen, Kinder Lernen (Parents Play, Children Learn, 1972) by Wolfram Frommlet, Hans Mayhofer, and Wolfgang Zacharias is a handbook mainly for adults about how to start community groups which want to create better play conditions for children. Wir sind zornig und böse (We Are Angry and Mad, 1972), edited by Nadine Lange, contains reports by black children about slum conditions in the United States.

In general, the Weismann Verlag is more concerned with explaining social issues to teenagers and explicating socialist theories. The following three books are most typical of their general policy: Kinderbuch für kommende Revolutionäre (A Children's Book for Future Revolutionaries, 1970) by Ernst Herhaus; Wie eine Meinung in einem Kopf entsteht (How Opinions Originate in Your Head, 1971) by E. A. Rauter; Von einem der auszog und das Fürchten lernte (About Someone Who Went Out and Learned about Fearing, 1970) by Günter Wallraff.

Herhaus' book begins with a story about Poppie Hollenarsch, young daughter of an old-time Communist, who has become a drunkard and a cynic because the times are against him. Consequently, Poppie is neglected and flounders. She decides that the only way to survive in a capitalist society is by selling oneself. So, she becomes a prostitute. At one point she meets a radical who takes a sincere interest in her and promises to explain to her what enlightenment means and why she is a victim of capitalism. The stories and anecdotes which follow are written in a blunt, crass manner and deal with the author's attempts to write a children's book while at the same time indirectly answering Poppie's questions by showing how children themselves must think dialectically and enlighten themselves about social conditions so that they will acquire the skills and knowledge to change the social system.

Rauter is even more theoretical in his book. His major thesis is that individuals are made in schools, that is, through education which consists of the home, movies, television, theater, radio, newspapers, books, and posters. Just as an object is made by an instrument, so is an individual, and the instrument which makes him/her is information. Consequently, whoever controls the instruments of information is able to control mankind's consciousness and action. Using concrete examples, Rauter explains how the media and schools produce conformists and nonthinkers. With each point he makes, he draws closer to his conclusion that we all must turn the education process around so that we can control our lives and prevent further production of passive, perverse human beings.

Günter Walraff's book is the most explicit example of how one can actually bring about changes in West German society. Wallraff is a type of Ralph Nader, with the exception that Wallraff has dealt with exposing the sordid conditions in factories and business firms by working in them. Over the past seven years (often with the help of pseudonyms and disguises) he has held jobs in different plants and firms throughout West Germany and has revealed the exploitative methods of capitalists. His book is a report about his activities which begins with a description in diary form of how he was maltreated by the army as a conscientious objector and how he then worked at different factories, wrote for newspapers, and was subjected to harassment by big industry and the government. The book closes with an account of how workers took over a glass factory in Immenhausen, prevented it from going bankrupt, and now run it collectively—a model for workers' control.

All three of these Weismann books are noteworthy for the respect they pay teenagers. Words are not minced. These books are written in a clear, intelligible language which makes the theory and connections drawn to the social realities comprehensible for young readers. Sparse illustrations, generally photographic montages, are used effectively to reveal existing contradictions in society. All Weismann books lay great emphasis on authenticity and documentation. Many are limited in their appeal to a young progressive intelligentsia because of their abstract quality, but their socialist perspective and edifying aspect provide a basis within the material itself for readers of all social classes to understand the theoretical arguments. In this sense, the difficulty presented by the Weismann publications lies not so much in the books themselves as in the educational system which restricts the use of such books in the classroom.

Due to the efforts of Weismann, Basis, Oberbaum, Das rote Kinderbuch, März, Luchterhand, Melzer, and several other smaller publishing houses, some of the larger liberal firms such as Ellermann16 and Kindler17 have included anti-authoritarian or socialist books in their lists of children's books. Most notably, Rowohlt Verlag, one of the largest and best houses in West Germany, has started a series called Rotfuchs (Red Fox) under the general editorship of Uwe Wandrey. The series began in April 1972, and well over sixty inexpensive paperbacks with superb artwork and photography have been published since then. Most of the authors are already well known in West Germany. It is to Wandrey's credit that he has encouraged authors and artists who normally work for the adult world only to concern themselves with children's needs. The general policy of Rotfuchs is one of cultural pluralism. That is, the series contains books which range in their critique of society from mildly reformist to socialist. The age groups addressed are anywhere from five to fourteen. Some of the books are limited in their appeal to a distinct age group, whereas others cut across age and social class differences. Here are brief summaries of seven books which will convey an impression of the spectrum of this series.

Angela Hopf's Die grosse Elefanten Olympiade (The Great Elephant Olympics, 1972, ages 5-8) is a critique of the do-or-die achievement ethos of sports, especially the Olympics. With amusing, unusual illustrations of elephants competing against one another, Hopf brings out in her narrative how sports can be fun. Friedrich Karl Waechter's Tischlein deck dich und Knüppel aus dem Sack (Table, Be Covered, and Stick, Out of the Sack, 1972, ages 6-11) is a remarkable modern version of the Grimms' fairy tale. Here a young man invents a table cloth and a magic stick which are expropriated by a factory owner in order to intimidate the workers and hold them in his power. However, the young inventor joins with his fellow-workers, who had participated in the development of the inventions, to foil the owner's plot. In the end, they take charge of the factory and their own lives. Here, too, the illustrations are pertinent, subtle, and comical. Waechter has also illustrated a selection of the Grimms' fairy tales, Der kluge Knecht (The Smart Knave, 1972, ages 5-9) with an important afterword by Wandrey about the social content of fairy tales. Rüdiger Stoye's book Der Dieb XY (The Thief XY, 1972, ages 7-12) involves a boy who decides to hunt for the thief XY after watching a television program which actually exists in West Germany and posts rewards for the capture of criminals. After he mistakenly paints XY on people whom he suspects to be criminal, the young boy is severely punished by his parents. Consequently, he decides to run away, and he comes across a mysterious stranger in the woods who helps and comforts him. The stranger turns out to be the wanted thief, with whom the boy decides to live until both are captured by the police. Here the illustrations are stark and photogenic. There is no preaching, but the boy learns that there is another side to criminality than that which he views on television. Günter Herburger's Helmut in der Stadt (Helmut in the City, 1972, ages 6-10) is about a young boy who is supposed to look after his sister while his parents work. He has a quarrel with her, and she disappears. Helmut goes looking for her and winds up by exploring the entire city, which becomes his playground. After several hours of seeing different aspects of city life, Helmut returns home only to find that his sister had been hiding in the cellar. Both promise not to upset their parents by telling what happened during the day. The story is filled with photos of Helmut in the city that depict social and work conditions. Helmut is pictured neither as cute nor heroic, but rather curious and alert. He responds to an emergency situation with remarkable calm and understanding. Hellmuth Costard's Herberts Reise ins Land der Uhren (Herbert's Journey to the Country of the Clocks, 1974, ages 5-8) is filled with lively illustrations picturing Herbert in situations where he learns how compulsive and murderous people become under the pressure of time. In this sense the journey is beneficial because Herbert (and the young reader as well) realizes that time cannot be allowed to control his life. "Mein Vater ist aber stärker!" ("My Father's Stronger than Yours!" 1974, ages 6-10) is a collection of sketches, stories, and anecdotes by students of the school of education in Hamburg, based on their practice teaching in youth homes and schools. The main intent of the stories is to demonstrate how children learn through conflict and that serious conflicts dominate their lives, which are not as rosy as most children's books portray or adults think. This theme is continued in Heike Hornschuh's Ich bin 13 (I'm 13, 1974, ages 12 and up) recorded by Simone Bergmann, with photographs of Heike, her family, and friends. Here a young girl gives a candid account of her life and views of family, sex, society, the role of women, and her possibilities for a career. The remarkable feature of this narrative is that it offsets most of the clichés about young girls, for Heike shows herself to be extremely conscious of the underprivileged role she has as female, and her efforts to overcome the obstacles which hinder her full development are by any measure exemplary.

The advantage of the left-liberal policy of the Rotfuchs series is also its disadvantage. The Rotfuchs books speak to many different audiences and propose various alternatives to the existing social system. Some indicate revolution, some reform. Some see change coming about by developing the creative and cognitive faculties of children while others seek to raise class consciousness. The mode of portrayal ranges from the parable, fable, and surreal to the realistic and documentary. The language is generally high German, although slang is used. Dialects are avoided. All classes of children are lumped together, and no overall didactic goal can be ascertained, except to say that the series wants to teach critical thinking. This is its disadvantage since many of the books in the series contradict one another and are at odds in their fundamental educational goals. Without a clear-cut policy, the books will be consumed indiscriminately by children who will learn to tolerate different views but not really learn how to think critically in a social context and historical manner.

Prospects for a New Socialist Children's Literature

There can be no doubt that the new socialist children's books are changing the style and contents of children's books published by the more liberal and conservative firms. The socialist books have been especially influential in several ways. They use plain, everyday language which corresponds to that most familiar to both children and adults. It is intelligible and clear but not childish and simplistic, and it serves to enhance the learning ability of the readers, not to compensate for inadequate education. Story-lines address themselves to actual problems in present-day Germany. Boys and girls are treated as equals, and traditional role-playing is brought into question. The heroes and the heroines are the collective. Emphasis is placed on struggle and solidarity. The perspective of the story is a general socialist one. The resolution of problems is not made easy, for there is no happy end. Photographs and comics are used in unique ways to convey a clear picture of social conditions and contradictions. The art work is subtle and fosters original thinking and appreciation. Socialist theory helps clarify the social disparities encountered by children in concrete situations. The production of the books is geared to the reception by children. An earnest attempt is made by the producers either to involve children in the production process or to write books which pertain to the interests of children and stimulate class consciousness and solidarity.18

For the most part, socialist children's literature pays a great deal of attention to the production of books in relation to pedagogical praxis. As Dieter Richter has noted,19 the books serve to bring together adults and children and to promote a common critical and creative activity. These books are not to be consumed and forgotten, but to be discussed and used as tools for the development of each participant's full abilities. Some of the contributions and innovations made by socialist children's literature are not new, and some will be appropriated by the more conservative literature. Nevertheless, the socialist children's literature is forcing producers of children's literature in general to grow up and respect the intelligence of children and deal with their problems in earnest instead of writing the usual condescending, unreal, and trivial stories. Here the positive effect of socialist children's literature is clear. But will it survive?

Aside from the fact that fewer and fewer people read in West Germany, the socialist children's literature tends to appeal mainly to children of the progressive intelligentsia, or, in other words, the children of the producers. This dilemma can only be solved as more contact with educational institutions and the working classes is established. As Beate Scheunemann points out, socialist children's literature can only become effective if it is part of practical agitation, which means class struggle at the schools.20 Here it appears that socialist children's literature will have to wage a long battle before it is accepted as part of the general school program. The reason for this, as Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge have remarked, is that:

the public sphere of children like the public sphere of the proletariat has the tendency to include the totality of society. It does not allow itself to be organized in small groups. When children attempt to organize for themselves and herein regulate their lives, it cannot be their intention to pay for their freedom of space by completely withdrawing from reality and withdrawing from the adult world, which is the prime link to the source of all objects together and to the children. Therefore, the public sphere of children cannot be brought about without a material public sphere which connects the parents, and without public spheres of children at all levels and in all classes of society which are able to be brought into contact with one another…. Self-organization and self-regulation of children will be just as vehemently disputed by all kinds of authoritarian interests as is the self-organization of the proletariat. Whoever thinks that the public sphere of children is a grotesque idea will have difficulty conceiving what the public sphere of the proletariat really is.21

Negt and Kluge argue that the public sphere has historically become dominated and institutionalized mainly by the bourgeoisie, and there is no sector of public education, communication, assembly, production, or distribution which does not serve the interests of this ruling class. For society to become truly free, democratic, and socialist, they assert that a proletarian public sphere must be created so that people will become aware of their own genuine material needs and desires and the ways to fulfill these needs and desires. This means an intrusion into the bourgeois public sphere. In this regard, a children's literature which truly speaks to the material needs and desires of children, whether it be expressly socialist or democratic, must by necessity contradict and challenge the bourgeois public sphere. By earnestly attempting to establish a children's viewpoint—a public sphere of children—it immediately aligns itself with proletarian interests (i.e., the interests of the majority of the people) seeking to push for social democratic changes.

The question is whether the children's public sphere can actually emerge and make itself felt, which is a question of organization and distribution. Concomitantly there is a problem of co-optation, whereby the bourgeois public sphere appropriates the new forms developed in behalf of children (and the proletariat). To be more precise, most of the books produced by Basis and Weismann are handled by radical bookstores or are sold through the mail.22 The standard bookstores do not distribute them, nor are they awarded prizes by the established children's book committees.23 This again limits the audience for socialist children's literature to the initiates. The real success of socialist children's literature will depend ultimately on who controls the market for children's books. Though the immediate prospects for socialist children's literature are not rosy, a struggle has commenced which suggests that the days of the "classics" are numbered and that literature for children will make more sense and be more lively. This struggle will not be settled overnight, and the new socialist children's literature reflects this. In this respect, its ultimate worth will depend on how we in the West (not only in West Germany) value the future we glimpse in the eyes of our children.


1. See my article, "Educating, Miseducating, and Re-educating Children: Attempts to Desocialize the Capitalist Socialization Process," New German Critique, 1 (Winter 1973), 142-59.

2. There has been such a prodigious output of noteworthy studies that it would take a small pamphlet to list them all. Some of the more important ones are: Johannes Beck et al., Erziehung in der Klassengesellschaft (Munich, 1970); Claus Biegert and Diethard Wies, Kinder sind kein Eigentum (Munich, 1973); Jörg Claus, Wolfgang Heckman, and Julia Schmitt-Ott, Spiel in Vorschulalter (Frankfurt/M, 1973); Wilfried Gottschalk, Marina Neumann-Schönwetter, Gunther Soukup, Sozialisationsforschung (Frankfurt/M, 1971); Freerk Huisken, Zur Kritik bürgerlicher Didaktik und Bildungsökonomie (Munich, 1972); Hellmut Lessing and Manfred Liebel, Jugend in der Klassengesellschaft (Munich, 1974), and Hartmut Titze, Die Politisierung der Erziehung (Frankfurt/M, 1973).

3. For the most recent criticism by the New Left, see the special issues of Kursbuch, vol. 34 (Dec. 1973) and Kürbiskern, vol. 1 (1974) as well as Die heimlichen Erzieher: Kinderbücher und politisches Lernen, ed. Dieter Richter and Jochen Vogt (Reinbek, 1974).

4. For a complete picture of the historical background, see Helmut Müller, "Der Struwwelpeter—Der langanhaltende Erfolg und das wandlungsreiche Leben eines deutschen Bilderbuches," Klassische Kinder- und Jugendbücher, ed. Klaus Doderer (Weinheim, 1970), pp. 55-97.

5. Cf. Otto F. Gmelin, Böses kommt aus Kinderbücher (Munich, 1972), pp. 29-40, and Elke und Jochen Vogt, "'Und höre nur, wie bös er war,' Randbemerkungen zu einem Klassiker für Kinder," Die heimlichen Erzieher, pp. 11-30.

6. A recent issue of the prominent journal Vorgänge was devoted entirely to this problem. See "Kinderfeindlichkeit oder: Die Chancen einer wehrlosen Minderheit," Vorgänge, vol. 7 (1974).

7. Darmstadt, 1973. Waechter's book transforms all the stories into their opposites. It is more than a simple parody in that it incorporates emancipatory features into a critique of authoritarian behavior.

8. For a good analysis of this novel, see Ingrid and Klaus Doderer, "Johanna Spyris Heidi—Fragwürdige Tugendwelt in verklärter Wirklichkeit," Klassische Kinder- und Jugendbücher, pp. 121-34.

9. Ibid., p. 130.

10. See note 5 above.

11. See Birgit Dankert, "Die antiautoritäre Kinder- und Jugendliteratur," Jugendliteratur in einer veränderten Welt, ed. Karl Ernst Maier (Bad Heilbrunn, 1972), pp. 75-84.

12. The title of the comic book is Lehrlingsfront 1, and the photographic story, Liebe Mutter, mir geht es gut.

13. See Hartwig Denkwerth, Verordnete Illusionen (Berlin, 1974), which deals with pictures and illusions used in schools; Dagmar von Doetinchem and Klaus Hartung, Zum Thema Gewalt in Superhelden-Comics (Berlin, 1974), which studies the portrayal of power and force in comics; and Dieter Richter and Johannes Merkel, Märchen, Phantasie und soziales Lernen (Berlin, 1974), which deals with the imagination and learning how to read fairy tales.

14. Berlin, 1971, p. 1.

15. Weismann has recently joined with Raith Verlag of Munich, a progressive firm which has concentrated on publishing books dealing with psychology and education.

16. Ellermann has published one of the pioneer books in the anti-authoritarian tradition, Elisabeth Borcher's Das rote Haus in einer kleinen Stadt.

17. Kindler has issued an anti-authoritarian story, Ein Roter Zug will fliegen by Ivan Steiger, and some important studies about children and children's literature by Otto F. Gmelin and Monika Sperr.

18. For an excellent study about the concept of solidarity in children's literature, see Wolfgang Grebe, Erziehung zur Solidarität (2nd rev. ed.; Wiesbaden, 1973).

19. See "Kinderbuch und politische Erziehung—Zum Verständnis der neuen linken Kinderliteratur," Asthetik und Kommunikation, 5-6 (February 1972), 31-2. Richter's essay is the best one on the subject of radical children's literature. He has also edited a most significant collection of essays dealing with socialist children's literature, Das politische Kinderbuch (Darmstadt, 1973).

20. "Kind und Buch," Kursbuch, 34 (December 1973), 79-102.

21. Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung: Zur Organisationanalyse von bürferlicher und proletarischer Öffentlichkeit (Frankfurt/M, 1973), pp. 466-67.

22. Weismann has cooperated with several industrial unions which distribute books like Wall-raff's Von einem der auszog und das Fürchten lernte to young workers.

23. See Wolfram Frommlet, "Jugendbuchforschung in der BRD," Kürbiskern, 1 (1974), 74-88.

Thomas Freeman (essay date spring 1977)

SOURCE: Freeman, Thomas. "Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter: An Inquiry into the Effects of Violence in Children's Literature." Journal of Popular Culture 10, no. 4 (spring 1977): 808-20.

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Elisabeth Wesseling (essay date December 2004)

SOURCE: Wesseling, Elisabeth. "Visual Narrative in the Picture Book: Heinrich Hoffmann's Der Struwwelpeter." Children's Literature in Education 35, no. 4 (December 2004): 319-45.

[In the following essay, Wesseling studies the interplay of words and images in Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter, concluding that the book is an example of subversive children's literature.]

The Autonomous Picture

The picture book has proved to be a fruitful field of study for inquiries into the narrative potential of the fixed image. It has generated a rather sophisticated body of theory over the last 20 years or so, which leaves the conventional view of the picture book as a basically verbal artifact supported by pictures far behind. Contemporary studies of the picture book approach its pictorial dimension as an independent semiotic system in its own right, which does not necessarily concur with the verbal component, rather than as a mere prop to the verbal story. Both words and images make their own relatively autonomous contribution to the overall semantic, aesthetic and emotional effect of the picture book. Therefore, it has often been observed that the picture book is closer to other mixed narrative forms such as drama or film than to verbal fiction.1

Given the general consensus on the substantial weight of both pictorial and verbal narrative codes in the picture book, it is only logical that many studies attempt to give an overview of the different types of interaction between words and images in this surprisingly complex art form. With this purpose in mind, scholarship on the picture book has devoted considerable attention to the issue of 'irony'. According to Perry Nodelman, words and pictures can never simply repeat or parallel each other, because of the inherent differences between verbal and visual modes of communication.2 Images cannot explicitly assert attitudes towards the phenomena they display, for example. They can, however, visually demonstrate attitudes, while words are incapable of directly expressing emotion through shape and color. Because visual and verbal modes of communication are subject to diverging sets of constraints, the images in a picture book can never simply illustrate the words, but will necessarily offer different types of information to the reader: "As a result, the relationships between pictures and texts in picture books tend to be ironic: each speaks about matters on which the other is silent" (p. 221).3 Nodelman even has it that every picture book tells at least three stories: a verbal one, a visual one, and a third one that "tends to emerge from ironies created by differences between the first two" (p. 2).4 In keeping with the contemporary emphasis on the theatrical aspects of the picture book, the kind of irony Nodelman has in mind here is in fact synonymous to dramatic irony, for the third storyline is only accessible to the reader, who therefore has an advantage over the characters within the picture book. Readers necessarily know more than the protagonists in the verbal and/or visual stories.

Others think Nodelman's thesis about the endemic nature of irony in the picture book is overstated, and that one would do better to draw up a taxonomy that could do justice to the whole spectrum of different word-image interactions in picture books, ranging from relatively harmonious concord to blatant contradiction. Thus, Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott have come up with the categories of symmetrical, enhancing, complementary, counterpointing and contradictory interaction.5 In opposition to Nodelman's view, the first three categories allow for the possibility that words and pictures may closely cooperate in the narration of one and the same story. In symmetrical interaction, words and pictures basically repeat each other. When they enlarge each other's semantic range, we are dealing with enhancing interaction, which may culminate in complementary interaction, when words and pictures make truly independent contributions to one and the same story line. Only the last two categories coincide with Nodelman's concept of the inherently ironical picture book. In the case of counterpointing interaction, words and images generate meanings "beyond the scope of either one alone" (p. 226), which may even go as far as downright contradiction.6

In this article, I would like to go deeper into the potential of word-image combinations to generate stories, while contributing to the debate about irony in the picture book through a detailed analysis of Heinrich Hoffmann's Der Struwwelpeter, oder lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder (1858(1845)).7 This picture book makes a fascinating case, if only because Hoffmann was one of the very first authors to combine the literary conventions of the cautionary tale with illustrations in such a way that they both fulfil an essential function in propelling the story forward. Thus, the book provides us with the opportunity to study the word-image dynamic in embryo. It originated as a Christmas gift for his 4-year-old son Carl in 1844. Hoffmann, who practised medicine in Frankfurt, wanted to buy his son a book, but he could not find anything to his liking in the Frankfurt bookstores. Books for young children were too moralistic and didactic, in his view, and he was displeased with their illustrations. These, he felt, were too smooth, too realistic, too unimaginative to interest young children. And so he set about creating a picture book of his own, which did not only turn him into one of the first, but also one of the most successful creators of a "pictorialized"8 narrative in the history of German literature. Der Struwwelpeter was not only a bestseller, but also a spectacular longseller. It has gone through some 600 editions and is still in print today. Certainly, this fact in itself is enough to make anyone wonder what the secret could be of the enduring appeal of this picture book. However, I do not want to use Der Struwwelpeter merely as an accessory to the semiotics of word-image combinations. I would also like to demonstrate that theories of word-image relations in mixed genres such as the comic strip and the photo-novel may clarify a controversy that has dogged the Struwwelpeter research industry for decades at a stretch, namely the question of whether Hoffmann's tales propagate or undermine a repressive pedagogical regime. Some have it that Der Struwwelpeter advocates the harsh and cruel subjection of naughty children, others argue on the contrary that he ridicules adult authority. Siding with the latter party, I hope to point out that contemporary insights into visual narrativity may help to shed new light on this issue.

Setting the Stage

Hoffmann's book opens with a frontispiece that functions as a "visual prologue", (p. 82)9 that is, a word-image combination that anticipates the story that is to follow, somewhat comparable to the trailer of a motion picture or the overture of an opera. The visual prologue offers important clues to the interpretation of what is to follow. The page lay-out of the frontispiece has been composed out of three symmetrical sections. The top section displays an angelic creature with wings and a crown who holds out a picture book and is sided by two illuminated Christmas trees. The middle/lower section shows a boy playing with toys on the left and a boy who is walking the streets with his mother on the right. The bottom section contains a picture of a boy who is eating his soup at the dinner table. Judging from their clothes and their size, these three boys are one and the same person. Where the left-right division of the page is concerned, we may observe that the angel is positioned in the middle of the top section. This position is mirrored by the boy in the bottom section. The other figures in the middle/lower section have been moved to the margins of the page, while the text block occupies centerpage. These sections are suggestive of three semantic layers that will prove to be important throughout Der Struwwelpeter, the top section figuring the transcendental, spiritual or imaginary realm, the middle/lower section representing quotidian reality, just like the bottom section, with the difference that the latter places a stronger accent on basic bodily drives. The ethereal nature of the angelic creature is emphasized by the fact that its feet are hidden from view. It is not grounded in any sort of way, it simply floats, in contrast to the picture of the boy at the dinner table, which conspicuously displays the legs of both table and chair, firmly putting the boy on the ground. This chair is duplicated in miniature size in the toy which the boy on the left margin of the middle/lower section is holding in his hand. Thus, the frontispiece turns heaven and earth into contiguous domains. The angelic creature is surrounded by toys (a man on a horse, a miniature church, candy, some of which are duplicated in the toys the boy in the middle/lower section is playing with), while holding out the most desirable toy of all, the picture book, which will be given by "das Christkind" as a Christmas present to children who do as they are told, namely playing quietly, allowing themselves to be guided by their mother while out on the street, and finishing their dinner. In other words, there is a certain give-and-take between heaven and earth. Creatures from heaven will occasionally consent to descend, while there is a promise of upward mobility for those situated in the middle/lower and bottom sections. These connotations will prove to be important to the interpretation of the picture book as a whole, as I shall point out later on.10

Turning the page, we are confronted with the title story. It features the icon of a boy on an ornamental pedestal sporting exceedingly long hair and fingernails. The pedestal is decorated by a comb and a scissors, which flank the inscription of the accompanying text as ornamental trophies. The words of the title story are uttered by the same "voice of authority" who produced the lines on the frontispiece, namely an external narrator who does not figure as a character in the scenes presented to us. The messages uttered on the frontispiece and the title story are complementary to each other. In the first case, juvenile readers are lured into identification with the obedient children in the pictures through the promise of a gift, while they are discouraged from identifying themselves with the filthy boy in the title story through the threat of physical discomfort. Shock-headed Peter is offered up to the juvenile reader as an object of ridicule and disgust. The public is supposed to scoff at him, in unison with the external narrator. The title story exhorts the audience to bond with the voice of authority at the expense of the young protagonist of the story, who is put in the pillory as a target of disidentification.

The word-image dynamic in the title story is theatrical rather than dramatic in the strict sense of the word.11 Contemporary picture books often feature an internal narrator (first-person narration) who is displayed in the pictures from an external point of view (third-person narration). The verbal story represents the events from the point of view of the child hero, but in the pictures the main characters tend to figure as the object rather than the subject of focalization, that is, the picture represents the child, rather than the field of vision of the main character. In the case of Der Struwwelpeter, both words and pictures are external. Shock-headed Peter does not get to speak a single line, nor do the other children in the stories that are to follow, but for the one exception of "Suppen-Kaspar". Just like the frontispiece, this already gives us a foretaste of the tight fit between the words and the pictures of Der Struwwelpeter. The pictures act out the words quite literally and vice versa. The juvenile reader is invited to cast a scornful glance upon this depraved child and therefore the accompanying picture puts him up for exposure. The frontispiece and the title story together set the stage for what is to follow. They suggest that we will be presented with a collection of cautionary tales which instill notions of appropriate behaviour into the audience by confronting readers with the consequences of certain deeds. These consequences function as so many rewards or punishments (mostly the latter).

At first glance, the subsequent stories seem to meet these expectations. They all demonstrate how childish peccadilloes such as sucking one's thumb, playing with matches, or refusing nourishment have grave consequences that seriously endanger, mutilate and sometimes even kill the youthful transgressors. If we want to subsume the misdeeds in the Struwwelpeter stories under a common denominator, one could say that the various child protagonists are all guilty of being unable to control their spontaneous bodily impulses. As soon as they begin to move about while giving in to this or that urgent inclination, they are in for trouble. In other words, they all fail to conform to the quiet and subdued types of behaviour displayed by the frontispiece. The rather severe punishments of (near) death by drowning, burning, or starving are rarely meted out by authorities such as parents, nannies or schoolmasters, except for "Der Daumenlutscher," whose thumbs are cut off by a tailor's scissors. In general, there hardly seems to be any need for human intention or intervention here. Evil punishes itself in Der Struwwelpeter through merciless cause-and-effect chains that are forged by ineradicable natural laws.

Words and pictures closely cooperate to evoke the appearance of objectivity and inevitability in the Struwwelpeter stories. Charles Frey has remarked upon "the compulsive balance and symmetry of Hoffmann's illustrations," claiming that "formality and rigidity pervade even the silliest of his pictures" (p. 52). The pictures indeed obey rigid codes in certain respects. The critical moment at which a child decides to ignore an interdiction is always clearly indicated by visual signs. Except for "Suppen-Kaspar", the child protagonists are drawn en face as long as they stay in their proper place. They are drawn en profil as soon as they decide to follow their own impulses, which is always a sure sign that their lives will be at stake within a few moments. Furthermore, the pictures tend to represent the consequences of the deeds that are reported in the verbal text In other words, the pictures usually depict phenomena that succeed the events recorded by the words. If the verbal text of "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich" informs us that Frederick, who is overly prone to anger, wrecks chairs and kills birds, the picture represents a boy who flourishes a broken chair over his head while dead birds are lying at this feet. If we are told that "Suppen-Kaspar" literally starves himself to death, the final picture does not show his corpse, but his tombstone. Marie-Luise Könneker infers from this temporal relationship between words and pictures that the pictures fulfil the function of forwarding evidence of the events recorded in the verbal text: 'These misdeeds were truly committed: here is the result'.12

A rather humorless word-picture dynamic, or so it seems! Another possible argument to underscore the supposedly authoritative, repressive nature of this collection of stories could be derived from the 'choruses' and other devices for driving home the moralistic message and curbing the children's freedom to interpret the stories as they like. Choruses in a theatrical drama generally perform the function of moulding the audience's attitude towards the events represented. The two cats in "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug" and the three fishes in "Die Geschichte vom Hans Guck-in-die-Luft" perform this task in Der Struwwelpeter. Other theatrical devices for telling children what they are to think of the sad fate befalling their fellow creatures are the face towering above "Der Daumenlutscher" as a part of the décor furnishing the stage on which he has been put up for display. This face is 'making faces' in reaction to the events displayed: disapproval at disobedience, satisfaction at punishment. At this point, one may well wonder how the epithets "lustig" and "drollig" apply to the Struwwelpeter stories. What could possibly be so funny about all this? It is time for a second look.

Cracks in the Backdrop

If we subject the visual narrativity of Der Struwwelpeter to a closer analysis, we may chance upon a whole array of features that complicate the comments given in the above. Let us return to the title story for a moment. I have suggested that the child protagonist is presented to the juvenile reading audience as a target of scorn. However, the style in which Shock-headed Peter has been drawn invites us to reconsider this interpretation. Like all the other characters in Der Struwwelpeter, he has been drawn in an emphatically clumsy manner. This is how children draw puppets: facing the spectator, with stiff, slightly spread arms and legs. Although Hoffmann earned his living as a doctor and dabbled in the composition of picture books, this does not mean that he could not do any better than that. Hoffmann's extensive account of the origins of Der Struwwelpeter points out that he purposefully aimed at imitating childish doodles to make his book amenable to the very young audience he had in mind (3-6 year olds). The pictures are likely to give child readers the idea that they could easily achieve something like that as well, a first step towards overcoming dislike. Furthermore, although the verbal text indeed emphatically pillories this filthy child, the fact of the matter is that the picture (which literally incorporates the text) has not really put him in a pillory but on a monumental, decorated pedestal, which is a sign of honor rather than humiliation. Lastly, Shock-headed Peter does not betray even the faintest trace of shame or regret. He neither cowers nor casts down his eyes. On the contrary, he stares back at the spectator in defiance.

True enough, words and pictures concur very closely indeed in Der Struwwelpeter, apparently leaving hardly any room for the ironical freedom of interpretation that picture books are appreciated for nowadays. But as a matter of fact, their fit is a little too close for comfort, and this is exactly the point at which irony comes into play. The words telling us that the cats in the story about the matches cried a river over Harriet's unfortunate death are illuminated by a picture which literally displays the cats shedding a veritable flood of tears. This hyperbolic image evokes bathos rather than pathos. Moreover, it casts doubt upon the preceding sequence of events. If the cats are apparently able to call forth this much water, why did they not do so before in order to quench the flames consuming poor Harriet? Thus, this story not only exposes Harriet's naughtiness, but it also reveals the incompetence and unreliability of those who claim a position of authority over children.

Once doubt begins to creep in, we may notice another tell-tale detail in the final picture, namely the purple ribbons in the tails of the cats. Judging from their color, these are the same ribbons that decorated Harriet's braids in the previous pictures. How is it possible that these ribbons were salvaged from the flames, together with the girl's shoes? These details undermine the verisimilitude of Harriet's gruesome punishment. In the case of the tearful cats, there is a strong congruence between words and pictures, because the picture takes the verbal metaphor literally. An even more salient example of this device is offered by the tailor in the story about the thumb-sucker. Although the punishment of the thumb-sucker is perhaps the most frightening episode of all, its cruelty is mitigated by the way in which the tailor has been drawn. The tailor wielding the scissors is really a big pair of scissors himself: his hair, his coat, his legs, and (in later editions) the tape measure hanging out of his pocket all display the V-shape of the 'legs' of a pair of scissors. The German word for tailor—'Schneider'—literally means 'cutter' and indeed, this man seems to have been tailored to cutting. One does not encounter such creatures in everyday life: they only show up on the pages of a picture book.

The World Turned Upside Down

Let us now reconsider the "compulsive balance and symmetry" of Hoffmann's illustrations noted (but not analyzed) by Charles Frey. He has it that the rigid codification of these images indicate that "'merriment' and 'funniness' are kept strictly within bounds of good child-rearing moral philosophy" (p. 52). A close reading of the illustrations reveals, however, that visual balance and symmetry undermine rather than uphold the hierarchy between adult authorities and disobedient children. Take, for instance, the symmetries in the top-bottom and left-right segmentation of the page. As I have already remarked in my analysis of the frontispiece, several pages in this picture book have a three-tiered lay-out. In the visual prologue, the top layer featuring "das Christkind" is suggestive of a spiritual realm, while the two layers below connote quotidian reality and the realm of our basic bodily drives. This order is disturbed by the second story in Hoffmann's tales, "Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich". The three pages that make up this story have an identical tripartite segmentation, but it conflates the semantic connotations of higher and lower levels of being. Confusion arises immediately in the sense that the superior position of the angel/Christ is now occupied by the evil Frederick, who triumphantly waves the token of his aggression above his head. The realm of quotidian reality which is capable of redemption through the descent of the heavenly creature in the visual prologue, has been downgraded to the bottom of the page, while the middle section pictures Frederick sadistically tearing off the wings of a fly, which are faintly reminiscent of the winged angel in the top section of the visual prologue. Obviously, there is no aspiration towards transcendence in this story. The conflation of higher and lower levels of being is aggravated on the second page, through the visual trickery with the stairway. One would expect movement to proceed from bottom to top, as we see Frederick climbing the stairs leading him from the bottom section to the top section of the page. However, the order of events as narrated by the words proceeds from top to bottom: first Frederick approaches a dog, then he threatens the animal with his whip, the dog finally retaliates by biting him in the foot. These events also reveal that the lower species (the animal) triumphs over the higher one (the human), an illegitimate victory which is consummated in the third and last page of the story. The top section displays a feverish Frederick who is confined to bed, while the dog has usurped his place at the dinner table and has gained possession of Frederick's whip. The chair and table are exactly identical to the pieces of furniture which occupied the bottom section of the frontispeice. Here they have moved one place up. The realm of quotidian reality has made way for the realm of the instinctual. This is not as it should be.

This destabilization of the hierarchy between the spiritual, the quotidian and the instinctual is not unique to this story, as a comparison with "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben" points out. This story also opens with the three-tiered set-up that we have grown familiar with by now. This time, the lofty position of the angel is occupied by the 'black-a-moor', which is equally unsettling, as blacks were considered to be more animal-like than whites in 19th-century Germany. The middle section shows two boys with toys, while the bottom section represents a boy with food (a pretzel), appropriately enough. In the concluding page, the hierarchy between up and down (which was already in disarray to begin with) has disappeared entirely: the four boys have now been placed on a par, with the three formerly white boys now being even blacker than the black-a-moor. Here, again, the higher has succumbed to the lower rather than the other way around. This inversion reaches a climax in "Die Geschichte vom wilden Jäger", where the hunted (a hare) literally triumphs over the hunter.

Where the left-right segmentation of the page is concerned, the Struwwelpeter stories also cause confusion. Within the Western pictorial tradition, convention has it that movement proceeds from the left to the right side of the picture. In Der Struwwelpeter, however, movement may proceed in both directions, which makes it difficult to infer priority from the visual information. On the first page of "Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben", the young black-a-moor is walking along from left to right. In the fourth and last page of the story, however, he is walking in the opposite direction, together with Kaspar, Ludwig and Wilhelm. But this is nothing compared to "Die Geschichte vom wilden Jäger", where movement continually proceeds from right to left and vice versa on each and every page in a bedazzling zigzag pattern.

The continual conflations of the upper and lower levels and the left and right sides of the page graphically embody the instability of hierarchy in the Struwwelpeter stories. This instability is epitomized in a recurrent motif in both the visual and the verbal component of this picture book, namely the interchange-ability of humans and animals. Frederick's place is usurped by a dog, adult authority is incorporated in a pair of cats in Harriet's story, the white boys Kaspar, Wilhelm and Ludwig become similar to the hardly civilized, animal-like black-a-moor, and the hunted hare turns into a hunter. The conventions of children's literature have familiarized us with the interchange-ability of children and animals. Like animals, children are considered to be prone to their instincts, contrary to adults, who have undergone a civilizing process. In Der Struwwelpeter, however, both children and adults give way to animals. Thus, authority may not be as firmly in place as the repressive pedagogical regime that is conventionally associated with Hoffmann's stories would require.

Visual Rhymes

As has already become apparent from my analysis of the page layout, there are strong resonances between the pictures of the various Struwwelpeter stories. They 'rhyme' in various ways and on different levels, in the sense that visual elements, motifs and structures are repeated from one story to another.13 Thus, the table and the chair with the red upholstery return in Frederick's story, just like the whip carried by the little boy on the right side of the middle section of the frontispiece. The boy in the bottom section of the first page of the story about the inky boys holds the pretzel in his hand that is displayed in the top right corner of the frontispiece. The soup that the good boy in the bottom section of the frontispiece is eating returns in the story about "Suppen-Kaspar". The black-a-moor is carrying an umbrella, just like Konrad's mother in "Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher" and Robert in the final story, "Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert". The toy church in the frontispiece returns in the 'real' church in the last story, etcetera.

It is not just visual structures and objects that recur from one story to another. On a slightly higher level of abstraction, we may also remark upon the recurrence of motifs or "functions" in Vladimir Propp's sense of the word. The motif of submersion, for instance, figures quite prominently in Der Struwwelpeter. In the fourth story, the three boys mocking the young black-a-moor are submerged in a well of ink by Saint Nicholas. The wild hunter seeks refuge in a well, while "Hans Guck-in-die-Luft" nearly drowns in a river. Once we have registered the recurrence of the element Water, we may grow sensitive towards the presence of the other three elements as well. The element Fire is introduced in the inflammation of Frederick's dog bite and his subsequent fever and then flares up again in the story about Harriet and the matches, while it makes its final appearance in the fiery shot of the hare in the story about the wild hunter. The element Earth is introduced in the fifth story, when the wild hunter lays down on the ground in order to take a nap, which is the beginning of his undoing. It is prominent in the story about "Suppen-Kaspar" who starves and is buried underground, while it returns in the story about "Zappel-Philipp", who undergoes a pseudo-burial as he falls down to the ground and is subsequently buried underneath the table-cloth and all the dishes it supported. The element Air, finally, is introduced in the frontispiece through the winged angel who dwells in heaven, it returns in the temptation of "Hans Guck-in-die-Luft" who cannot take his eyes from the sky above, while it dominates the story about flying Robert. There is indeed balance and symmetry in Hoffmann's treatment of the four elements, in that they all recur thrice, but not necessarily in the interest of furthering a repressive pedagogical regime. Rather, Hoffmann's play with the elements seems to tap archaic levels of meaning (which may at least partly explain Struwwelpeter's enduring appeal).

On a yet higher level of abstraction, one could point to rhymes between the ways in which the pages are structured, which I have already discussed to some extent. There is still a device that demands our attention within this context, namely the artful ways in which Hoffmann has framed the pages of his picture book. It is not just that the characters tend to be put up for view on pedestals, stages and placed against the background of theatrical backdrops, it is also that both words and pictures are unified into one visual whole by elaborate decorations that frame the page and thereby visually emphasize the fact that these narrative episodes are products of art, rather than slices of life. As these framing devices became more and more elaborate and emphatic when Hoffmann revised and expanded the collection of stories for the 1858 edition, we may legitimately suppose that he attached considerable importance to them. They are prominent to the extreme in the final story, whose scenes are literally surrounded by portrait frames. In other words, the three episodes constituting the story of flying Robert are presented to the reader as paintings that are hanging up on the wall.

Thus, the framing of the page may open our eyes to another type of recurrent motif in Der Struwwelpeter, namely the metafictional or 'metapictorial' allusions to its own status as an artifact. The great Nicholas in the fourth story has command over a gigantic pen and an equally formidable ink-well. The boys emerging out of his ink-well look like silhouettes or papercuts. It is impossible to mistake them for real boys, if only because they maintain one and the same bodily posture throughout the story, no matter what happens to them. The Nicholas who wields the gigantic quill represents authorship, and as such, he reminds the audience of the fact that the creatures they are presented with are really figments of the imagination. As this blatantly unrealistic episode is linked up with other episodes through the device of visual rhyme, it is suggested that the other protagonists are cardboard figures as well. Likewise, Konrad's mother warns him that if he indulges in thumb-sucking, his thumbs will be cut off "als ob Papier es wär" (as if they were made out of paper). This verbal threat is carried out by a figure ('the cutter') who emerges out of a literalization of a verbal expression, which may remind the reader of the fact that the tailor, Konrad, Kaspar, Ludwig and Wilhelm are all made out of paper rather than flesh and blood.

Series and Set

A close reading of the pictorial aspects of Der Struwwelpeter enables us to become somewhat more specific about the narrativity of pictures. If we want to go along with Nodelman's assertion that every picture book tells at least three stories, namely a verbal one, a visual one and a third one that is generated by the incongruities between the first two, let us now try to analyze more precisely how this third story line is generated. As I have remarked before, the verbal stories come across as cautionary tales in the first instance, which teach children that if you do x, y will inevitably happen. This collection of stories seems to feature a relatively arbitrary selection of ordinary German children, carrying ordinary German names such as "Friederich", "Kaspar" or "Konrad." Consequently, the order in which the various stories are presented to us does not seem to be very important. One feels as if the collection could be expanded at will, which is, in fact, what has actually happened, judging from the veritable avalanche of 'Struwwelpetriaden' that have been published in the wake of Hoffmann's classic.14

However, this generic categorization becomes problematic when we are prepared to give equal weight to the visual aspects of the Struwwelpeter stories. Hoffmann's play with top-bottom and left-right symmetries, temporal order, the visual rhymes and the framing devices indeed seem to tell a different story. This story-line can be articulated with the help of the categories that Mireille Ribière has brought to bear upon the analysis of photo-narratives.15 Ribière has drawn up a distinction between a 'series' and a 'set'. The first term refers to the chronological and causal order of events which may be inferred from the contiguousness of photographs arranged within a host-medium (page/book/wall). In the case of a photonarrative, a particular selection of shots has been arranged in such a way that a story emerges. Likewise, Hoffmann has arranged the pictures making up the various Struwwelpeter stories in such a way that a story emerges even without the support of the verbal text. These visual stories are a lot more playful and subversive than their verbal counterparts. Furthermore, in the case of photo-narratives, any photograph in the series may be linked up with any other photograph on the basis of some resemblance between the scene depicted, the types of shot used, or the print characteristics. These resemblances ("visual rhymes", as I have called them) constitute 'sets' that create correspondences between pictures scattered throughout a book. These translinear networks of comparable photographs may be suggestive of yet another storyline. Likewise, the visual rhymes in Der Struwwelpeter superimpose 'sets' of consonant elements on a linear 'series' of events. In other words, visual rhymes link up episodes which are not directly related through chronology or causality, which generates the third (or more) storyline(s).16

How would all this affect the interpretation of Der Struwwelpeter? The visual rhymes pertaining to, for instance, the play with the four elements, suggest that the various Struwwelpeter stories represent rites of passage. The protagonists are subject to archaic trials by fire, water, earth and air. These trials are all extremely dangerous, as any proper rite of passage should be. One may easily lose one's life in the process. The protagonists gradually mature through their struggles with the four elements. The boy who carries a whip in the frontispiece is younger than the boy who whips his nanny in the second story. The filthy child in the title story is younger than flying Robert. The ageing process is visualized quite emphatically in the ninth story. The Hans who is dragged out of the river is significantly older than the Hans who has his eye on the swallows in the first picture. At the opening of the story, Hans is still a small, chubby boy with an open and innocent expression on his face. The boy who finally emerges from the water is considerably taller and thinner, and his introverted facial expression clearly indicates that he has grown sadder and wiser.

Thus, while the series of the various Struwwelpeter stories seems to deal with the adventures of an arbitrary selection of children that are unrelated to each other, the set evoked by the visual rhymes sketches the contours of a rudimentary Bildungsroman, which relates the coming-of-age of a young Everyman. While the individual stories all seem to work towards the ending of a cruel punishment that teaches submission and obedience, the Bildungsroman as a whole culminates in the 'apotheosis' of Robert. This climax has puzzled many a reader who argues in favour of the repressive nature of Der Struwwelpeter, as flying does not really seem to be much of a punishment. However, as a conclusion to a set which is suggestive of a Bildungsroman, it begins to make sense. Let me first point out that we have come full circle when Robert takes off. His flight refers back to the frontispiece. The visual prologue depicts a heavenly creature who may descend to earth in order to distribute gifts, most notably, a picture book. This product of the imagination may lift the minds of those who are fortunate enough to receive it. The final scene depicts an earthly being who ascends to heaven. This scene is emphatically presented to us as another product of the imagination, that is, a painting. Thus, the promise of transcendence offered by the prologue is fulfilled in the final scene. Perhaps the order in which the stories are presented to us is not all that arbitrary after all.

Black or White Pedagogy?

Having come this far, we may now intervene in the perennial debate about the pedagogical implications of Der Struwwelpeter in an informed manner. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, both literary critics and educators have taken offence at the cruel child rearing methods that are supposedly propagated by Hoffmann's evergreen text.17 The view that Der Struwwelpeter is a typical example of schwarze Pädagogik18 (black pedagogy), that is, the disciplinary regime that bullies children into submission by systematically humiliating, threatening and even torturing them, has become firmly established. This point of view became truly dominant in the sixties and seventies, when anti-authoritarian approaches to child rearing became popular amongst the highly educated elite. This negative qualification of Hoffmann's classic has provoked a more nuanced approach, which comprehends the pedagogical message of Der Struwwelpeter as ambivalent. The moderates grant that Hoffmann was indeed intent on instilling the conventional Biedermeier catalogues of vices and virtues into the hearts and minds of his young audience, but they also have it that the stories contain subliminal messages that do not tally with established pedagogical lore.19 These critics note, for instance, that the child characters are never shown to bend or give in any sort of way, or that their misdeeds are described with a certain glee and an empathetic identification with the transgressor. However, the problem with most discussions of the pedagogical import of this picture book is that they hardly dwell on the fact that we are dealing with an aesthetic artifact here, which not only communicates through its explicit propositional contents, but also through the 'content of the form'. Strikingly enough, Hoffmann's contemporaries were more alert to the moral implications of matters of style and form. In fact, he was frequently taken to task for the ironical, playful aspects of his stories, which undermined their apparently pedagogical purposes. Critics particularly found fault with his illustrations, which, they felt, were too "fratzenhaft" (frolicsome) and as such, made fun of adult authorities.20

They were dead right. Der Struwwelpeter does not teach established morality. Just like any other children's book, however, it does teach children certain things, for children's books are inescapably didactic, if only because of the fact they are produced by adults for children. If this is so, then what could be the message of Hoffmann's picture book? One could say that it teaches children certain things about the power of the imagination. If one tried to paraphrase the 'moral' of these stories, one could come up with lessons such as the following: 'Growing up involves many risks, but it is possible to escape unscathed'; 'Don't take the verbal threats of adult authorities too literally'; 'Try to transform your fears through your imagination: give them form, exaggerate them, blow them out of proportion, laugh at them'; 'It is possible to transcend the daily grind through the power of art'. In other words, one could regard Der Struwwelpeter as a form of aesthetic education, which gives children an idea of sublimation, which is something entirely different from repression. It is pedagogical, for sure, but its pedagogy is of the 'white' rather than the 'black' variety.

Irony Revisited

My case study of Hoffmann's classic seems to come down on Nodelman's side of the debate on irony in the picture book. A close reading of Der Struwwelpeter suggests that irony may even arise when words and pictures represent the exact same events and characters. However, this does not necessarily prove that irony is endemic in the picture book, as Nodelman would have it. It does point out that the basis of current taxonomies that attempt to draw up inventories of different types of interplay between words and pictures is not solid enough, for they imply that irony increases to the extent that pictures introduce events and/or characters that are absent from the verbal counterpart. In other words, the presence and degree of irony in a picture book is supposedly directly proportional to the discrepancies between the verbal and the visual story. But irony is not necessarily a case of divergence on the level of story components, as I have tried to point out. Maybe the taxonomical effort fails to reach its goal because critics still have not found an effective vocabulary for analyzing this genre.21 Critics trying to come to terms with "polysystemy" in the picture book avail themselves of different types of metaphors: literary ('irony' is in fact, a literary trope), geological (the 'plate tectonics' of William Moebius), musical ('counterpoint'), physical science ('the interference' of different wave lengths of light which merge to create new patterns), etc.22 However, if we all agree on the fact that the picture book is much closer to mixed media such as drama, film, comic strips or photo-narratives than to literature, it would make more sense if taxonomies would employ the critical vocabularies designed expressly for these art forms. In any case, one should always try to select those concepts that enable the critic to come to terms with the artifactual nature of the picture book, its inherent materiality, or, in other words, with the contents of the form.


1. Perry Nodelman, 'The Eye and the I: Identification and First-Person Narratives in Picture Books.'

2. Perry Nodelman, Words about Pictures.

3. Perry Nodelman, Words about Pictures.

4. Perry Nodelman, 'The Eye and the I.'

5. Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott, 'The Dynamics of Picture Book Communication.'

6. Thiele (2000) has designed a comparable taxonomy of diverging 'dramaturgies' for combining words and picture by introducing the categories of parallel (doubling), potenzierend (enhancing), modifizierend (mutually constraining) and divergierend (the verbal and visual substrata cannot be subsumed under a single storyline anymore).

7. Hoffmann published the first edition of his picture book in 1845, which contained five stories in all. Hoffmann kept on adding elements to his picture book with later editions, until he drew up a drastically revised version in 1858, which is considered as the 'definitive' Struwwelpeter. My references are to this 1858 edition, which contains the following stories, besides the frontispiece and the title story:

  • Die Geschichte vom bösen Friederich—The Story of Cruel Frederick
  • Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug—The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches
  • Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben—The Story of the Inky Boys
  • Die Geschichte vom wilden Jäger—The Story of the Wild Huntsman
  • Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher—The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb
  • Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar—The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup
  • Die Geschichte vom Zappel-Philipp—The Story of Fidgety Philip.
  • Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft—The Story of Johnny Look-in-the-Air
  • Die Geschichte vom fliegenden Robert—The Story of Flying Robert

Readers may wish to consult the bilingual web edition of Hoffmann's classic:

8. The term is used by Andrea Schwenke Wyile to refer to books "wherein the overall meaning of the text is achieved by the interplay between the words and the pictures" (Schwenke Wyile 2001: 192).

9. Jens Thiele, Das Bilderbuch.

10. These observations are indebted to Anita Eckstaedt's psychoanalytic study of Der Struwwelpeter (Eckstaedt 1998). Although I do not go along with her overall interpretation of the Struwwelpeter stories as expressions of the ways in which a small boy reacts to the grief caused by the loss of his mother at an early age, the book is nevertheless highly recommendable because of its scrupulous and detailed analyses of both the verbal and the visual dimensions of Hoffmann's book.

11. The title story is not fully dramatic, in the sense that it lacks dialogue and it does not display 'men in action'. It is, however, strongly theatrical, in the sense that somebody is put up for display and the audience is explicitly invited to look at him.

12. Marie-Luise Konneker, Dr Heinrich Hoffmann's "Struwwelpeter."

13. The concept of 'visual rhyme' has been elaborated in inquiries into the comic strip, see, for instance Ribière (2001), Groensteen (2001).

14. Johannes Baumgartner, Der Struwwelpeter: Ein Bilderbuch macht Karriere and Rainer Rühle, "Bose Kinder."

15. Mireille Ribière, 'Danny Lyon's Family Album.'

16. This does not imply that sets always generate stories. Sets are not necessarily narrative. However, in this collection of stories, they certainly are.

17. See 'References' for: Angela von Randow; Elke Vogt and Jochen Vogt; Jack Zipes; Otto Gmelin; Thomas Freeman; Charles Frey.

18. This concept originated in the anti-authoritarian pedagogical climate of the seventies of the previous century. It was introduced by Katharina Rutschky's anthology of repressive pedagogical treatises of the 18th and 19th centuries (Rutschky, 1977) and became widely familiar through the popular psychology of Alice Miller, author of, amongst other books, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self (1997), originally translated as Prisoners of Childhood (1981). The German original, Das Drama des begabten Kindes und die Suche nach dem wahren Selbst, appeared in 1979.

19. See 'References' for: Marie-Luise Konneker; Jurgen Jahn; Hans Ries; Dieter Petzold; Eva-Maria Metcalf.

20. Inka Friese, 'Ein Klassiker am Ausgang seiner Epoche: Heinrich Hoffmann's Der Struwwelpeter.'

21. David Lewis, 'Going Along with Mr Grumpty.'

22. See Sipe (1998) for a survey of the various metaphors used to designate the word-image relation in the picture book.


Baumgartner, Johannes, Der Struwwelpeter: Ein Bilderbuch macht Karrière. Freiburg: Antiquariat Kolb, Vol. I, 1996; Vol. II, 1998.

Dahrendorf, Malte, "Der Ideologietransport in der klassischen Kinderliteratur: Vom Struwwelpeter zum Anti-Struwwelpeter," in Kinder- und Jugendliteratur, Margarete Gorschenek and Annamaria Rucktäschel, eds., pp. 20-48. München: Fink, 1979.

Eckstaedt, Anita, "Der Struwwelpeter" Dichtung und Deutung: Eine psychoanalylische Studie. Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1998.

Freeman, Thomas, "Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter: An Inquiry into the Effects of Violence in Children's Literature," Journal of Popular Culture, 1977, 10, 808-820.

Frey, Charles, "Heinrich Hoffmann: Struwwelpeter," in The Literary Heritage of Childhood: An Appraisal of Classics in the Western Tradition. Charles Frey and John Griffith, eds., pp. 51-59. New York [etc.]: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Friese, Inka, "Ein Klassiker am Ausgang seiner Epoche: Heinrich Hoffmann's 'Der Struwwelpeter," in Klassiker der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur, Bettina Hurrelman, ed., pp. 358-378. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1995.

Gmelin, Otto F., Böses aus Kinderbüchern und ein roter Elefant. Frankfurt: Haag & Herchen Verlag, 1977.

Groensteen, Thierry., "Le rèseau et le lieu: pour une analyse des procédures de tressage iconique dans la bande dessinée," in Time, Narrative & the Fixed Image; Temps, narration & image fixe, Mireille Ribière and Jan Baetens, eds., pp. 117-131, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001.

Jahn, Jürgen, "Struwwelpeter und sein Autor", Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur, 1985, 7, 21-33.

Könneker, Marie-Luise, Dr. Heinrich Hoffmanns "Struwwelpeter": Untersuchung zur Entstehungs- und Funktionsgeschichte eines bürgerlichen Bilderbuchs. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977.

Lewis, David, "Going along with Mr Gumpy: Poly-systemy & Play in the Modern Picture Book," Signal: Approaches to Children's Books, 1996, 80, 105-119.

Metcalf, Eva-Maria, "Civilizing Manners and Mocking Mortality: Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter." The Lion and the Unicorn, 1996, 20, 201-216.

Moebius, William, "Introduction to Picturebook Codes," Word & Image, 1986, 2, 141-158.

Nikolajeva, Maria and Carole Scott, "The Dynamics of Picture Book Communication," Children's Literature in Education, 2000, 31, 225-239.

Nodelman, Perry, Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Picture Books. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Nodelman, Perry, "The Eye and the I: Identification and First-Person Narrative in Picture Books," in Children's Literature 19, Francelia Butler, Barbara Rosen, and Jean Marsden, eds., pp. 1-31. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991.

Nodelman, Perry, "Illustration and Picture Books," in International Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Peter Hunt, ed., pp. 113-124. London: Routledge, 1996.

Petzold, Diete, "Die Lust am erhobenen Zeigefinger: Zur Dialektik von Unterhaltung und moralischer Belehrung, am Beispiel des Struwwelpeter," in Unterhaltung: Sozial- und literaturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zu ihren Formen und Funktionen, Dieter Petzold, ed., pp. 85-100. Erlangen: Universitätsbund Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1994.

Randow, Angela von, "Das Erziehungsmodell des "Struwwelpeter" und seine Aufnahme bei Vorschul-kindern," Jugendschriften-Warte, 1971, 23, 25-27.

Ribière, Mireille, "Danny Lyon's Family Album," History of Photography, 1995, 19, 286-292.

Ribière, Mireille, "Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman: A Second-Hand Narrative in Comic-Book Form," in Time, Narrative & the Fixed Image; Temps, narration & image fixe, Mireille Ribière and Jan Baetens, eds., pp. 131-145. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001.

Ries, Hans, "Der Struwwelpeter: Ein Bilderbuch ge-gen das deutsche Biedermeier," in Révolution, Restauration et les jeunes: 1789–1848: Écrits et images, pp. 89-105. Paris: Didier Erudition, 1989.

Rühle, Rainer, "Böse Kinder": Kommentierte Bibliographie von Struwwelpetriaden und Max- und Moritziaden mit biographischen Daten zu Verfassern und Illustratoren. Osnabrück: H.Th. Wenner, 1999.

Rutschky, Katharina, ed. Schwarze Pädagogik: Quellen zur Naturgeschichte der bürgerlichen Erziehung. Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1977.

Schwenke Wyile, Andrea, "First-Person Engaging Narration in the Picture Book: Verbal and Pictorial Variations," Children's Literature in Education, 2001, 32, 191-202.

Sipe, Lawrence R., "How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed Theory of Text-Picture Relationships," Children's Literature in Education, 1998, 29, 97-108.

Thiele, Jens, Das Bilderbuch: Ästhetik—Theorie—Analyse—Didaktik—Rezeption. Oldenburg: Oldenburg Verlag, 2000.

Vogt, Elke and Jochen Vogt, "'Und höret nur, wie bös er war': Randbemerkungen zu einem Klassiker für Kinder," in Die heimlichen Erzieher: Kinderbücher und politisches Lernen, Dieter Richter and Jochen Vogt, eds., pp. 11-30. Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1974.

Zipes, Jack, "The International Scene in Children's Literature: Down with Heidi, Down with Struwwelpeter, Three Cheers for the Revolution: Towards a New Socialist Children's Literature in West Germany," Children's Literature 1976, 5, 152-180.


Dorothea McEwan (essay date autumn 1994)

SOURCE: McEwan, Dorothea. "Struwwelhitler: A Nazi Story Book." Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 76, no. 3 (autumn 1994): 221-35.

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J. D. Stahl (essay date December 1996)

SOURCE: Stahl, J. D. "Mark Twain's 'Slovenly Peter' in the Context of Twain and German Culture." Lion and the Unicorn 20, no. 2 (December 1996): 166-80.

[In the following essay, Stahl offers a cultural comparison between Hoffmann's original Struwwelpeter and Mark Twain's Americanization of the text, Slovenly Peter.]

Both Germany and the United States have moralistic traditions of childhood instruction reaching back to the formative periods of their cultural origins. The interest Mark Twain showed in Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter, and his editorial and creative decisions in translating the popular German original, represent revealing intersections of two related but distinctly different cultural traditions. Mark Twain was drawn to the orderliness of German culture, but his interpretation of violence, alcohol, and racial prejudice in the anecdotes of Hoffmann's ironically cautionary work is more indebted to the American context than to the German "culture of restraint" or "Kultur der Zurückhaltung." Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter embodies a German cultural theme of conflict over "Zucht des Körpers" or "discipline of the body," which clearly fascinated Mark Twain, but which in his translation he shifted to emphasize American themes.

A brief examination of the backgrounds against which Hoffmann's and Twain's works emerged may be useful to the understanding of both more fully. Punishment made vivid by its violence is a didactic theme that spans the centuries. The volume titled Poetischer Bilderschatz der vornehmsten Biblischen Geschichten des alten und neuen Testamentes, zum erbaulichen Vergnügen der Jugend ans Licht gestellet [Poetic Image Treasury of the Most Noble Biblical Stories of the Old and New Testament, Brought to Light for the Instructive Pleasure of Youth] (Doderer and Müller 7), published in 1758 in Leipzig by an anonymous author, included the following illustrations:

    Adonibesek werden die Daumen und Zehen abgehackt,
    Gericht der Sündfluth,
    Isaacs Opferung,
    Pharaoh ersäuft im Rothen Meer,
    Der gestrafte Flucher,
    Die Rotte Korah wird verschlungen,
    Der Tod der fünf Könige,
    Sauls Söhne gefangen,
    Die Bären fressen die spottenden Knaben, u.a.
    Adonibesek's thumbs and toes are hacked off,
    the judgment of the flood,
    the sacrifice of Isaac,
    Pharaoh drowns in the Red Sea,
    the punishment of the one who curses,
    the band of Korah is devoured,
    the death of the five kings,
    Saul's sons captured,
    the bears eat the mocking boys, etc.

The verses in this work were accompanied by moral lessons that drew pointed conclusions for young readers about the application of the stories to their life and conduct.

Similarly, in the American Puritan tradition, James Janeway illustrated the need for children's spiritual repentance and moral vigilance through his horrific "Happy Death" stories, which invariably ended with the death of his young protagonists. Janeway, Isaac Watts, and other Puritan writers shared a moral passion for the reform and redemption of the young that issued in such frightful warnings as the one contained in a stanza of Watt's poem "Obedience to Parents":

    and ravens shall pick out his eyes
    and eagles eat the same.
                            (Demers and Moyles 70)

In the German tradition, this moralistic and religious strain was counterbalanced somewhat in the nineteenth century by a more scientifically-oriented informational genre, the "Sachbuch," or informational book, which originated in the works of Johann Amos Comenius (Orbis Pictus) and Johann Bernhard Basedow (Ein Vorrath der besten Erkenntnisse). It was this factual tradition, though, in a particularly pedantic and unimaginative form, that, at least according to one of Hoffmann's accounts, provided the impetus for his critical and creative departure.

As he told the story,

Ich hatte in den Buchläden allerlei Zeug gesehen, trefflich gezeichnet, glänzend bemalt, Märchen, Geschichten, Indianer- und Räuberszenen; als ich nun gar einen Folio-Band entdeckte, mit den Abbildungen von 0Pferden, Hunden, Vögeln, von Tischen, Bänken, Töpfen und Kesseln, alle mit der Bemerkung 1/3, 1/8, 1/10 der Lebensgröße, da hatte ich genug. Was soll damit ein Kind, dem man einen Tisch und einen Stuhl abbildet? Was es in dem Buche sieht, das ist ihm ein Stuhl und ein Tisch, größer oder kleiner, es ist ihm nun einmal ein Tisch, ob es daran oder darauf sitzen kann oder nicht, und von Original oder Kopie ist nicht die Rede, von größer oder kleiner vollends gar nicht….

                                     (1985, 106)

I saw all sorts of things in the bookstores, expertly drawn, glowingly painted, fairy tales, stories, scenes of life among Indians and robbers. When I finally saw a folio volume with reproductions of horses, dogs, birds, and of tables, benches, pots and kettles, all with the remark 1/3, 1/8, 1/10 of life size, I had had enough. What is a child supposed to do with the reproduction of a table or a chair? What the child sees in the book is a table and a chair, whether it is larger or smaller; it just is a table, whether the child can sit at it or on it or not. And to talk of original or copy, greater or smaller, is simply out of the question…. (my translation)

Hoffmann's dissatisfaction with the slickly-produced children's books of his day, coupled with his disgust at the dry scientific approach, unsuited to children, in his opinion, of a particular type of Sachbuch, culminated in his determination to make a better effort himself. What his brief critique of the folio volume reveals is his imaginative capacity to envision how a child is likely to perceive objects represented in a book. Perhaps the most revealing phrase of Hoffmann is "was es in dem Buche sieht, das ist ihm ein Stuhl und ein Tisch … ob es daran oder darauf sitzen kann oder nicht." His interpretation of the child's consciousness focuses on the child's imaginative relationship to the object pictured, whether that relationship be physical or mental. He insists that, to the child, the object is not an abstraction or a concept, but rather a real object: "es ist ihm nun einmal ein Tisch."

Mark Twain's dissatisfaction with the prevalent juvenile literature of his time bears some similarities to Hoffmann's. Twain objected to the sentimental and didactic abstraction of much literature available to or aimed at young audiences in the American republic. In the "Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd" in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he juxtaposed the mundane, physical reality of death with the high-flying ethereal rhetoric of sentimental religious poetry:

    They got him out and emptied him;
    Alas, it was too late;
    His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
    In the realms of the good and great.

By doing so, he deflated the pretentiousness of a didactic tradition that ignored the concrete realities of children's lives in favor of a kind of transcendental nonsense, or hogwash, as he would have called it.

Mark Twain's relationship to the moralistic tradition was, like Hoffmann's, a highly paradoxical one. He cannot be said to have been free from it so much as to have made a radical departure within it. In savagely humorous parodies such as "The Story of the Good Little Boy" and "The Story of the Bad Little Boy," Twain inverted the pieties of Sunday School fiction. The good little boy is Jacob Blivens, and he is destroyed by a nitroglycerine explosion. Mark Twain's counter-moral (or anti-moral) is directed against the tradition that taught Jacob Blivens that "the good little boys always died. He loved to live, you know, and this was the most unpleasant feature about being a Sunday-School book boy. He knew it was not healthy to be good" (qtd. in Stone 35).

Mark Twain was contemptuous about most of the genteel children's literature of his time, and his goal in writing was always to write for adults and young people simultaneously, or for adults who could remember what it was like to have been a child. Like Hoffmann, he was somewhat embarrassed by the enormous success of some of his works and would have preferred to have acquired a more serious reputation for the work he considered his best and most important.

Certainly, when Mark Twain chose to devote time and energy to the project of translating Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter in Berlin in October of 1891, he had some commercial goals in mind and was keenly aware of the popularity of the book. As he wrote, "Struwwelpeter is the best known book in Germany, and has the largest sale known to the book trade, and the widest circulation" (1935, 9). In a time when the members of the Clemens family, as his daughter Clara later wrote, "were compelled to spend every German mark as if it were an American dollar," "owing to financial losses," any scheme to turn a quick profit was appealing.

However, at least two further motivations for Twain's efforts are easily discernible. One was the prospect of giving pleasure to his children, which he succeeded in, as Clara's account reveals. She tells how she and her sisters witnessed their father's dramatic rendition of Slovenly Peter that Christmas morning in 1891. Samuel Clemens placed his translation of Struwwelpeter, carefully wrapped and adorned with a huge red ribbon, beneath the Christmas tree. Clara recounts:

He seated himself near the tree and read the verses aloud in his inimitable, dramatic manner. He was a good actor! He knew the verses by heart and required only the uncertain light of the candles to prevent his getting off the rhythmical path. Jean and Susie and I were very youthful and susceptible. We responded almost with tears to Father's graphic gestures in describing Pauline's conflagration. And how we laughed when he eloquently pictured the careless Hans walking straight into the pond among all the little fishes! All because the poor boy could not remove his eyes from the sky!


Clara's adult analysis of why the verses appealed to Clemens reveals the other evident facet of his attraction to Hoffmann's work:

There is an impious spirit of contrariness in the verses of this work that appealed to Father, suffering as he was from the blue Berlin mood of those first few weeks. He could sympathize with Kaspar, who wouldn't take his soup, because Father did not care for German soup either. The man who dipped the recalcitrant boy into the ink-bottle was after his own heart. How often had Father wanted to dip interrupting intruders into his own ink-bottle and watch them slink away in a black garb of shining fluid!

                                           (1935, 3)

Significantly, Clara finds the "impious spirit of contrariness" in both child and adult in Slovenly Peter. This accords with Mark Twain's powerful insistence that children and adults are subject to the same temperamental impulses, hypocrisies, and contradictions. In a pivotal scene of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom doses Peter the cat with the Pain-killer his Aunt Polly has been dosing on him. The Pain-killer "was simply fire in liquid form," but Aunt Polly is convinced that it is good for Tom, until Peter goes on a wild rampage after receiving a treatment of it.

Peter sprang a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a war-whoop and set off round and round the room, banging against furniture, upsetting flower pots, and making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind feet and pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment, with his head over his shoulder and his voice proclaiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went tearing around the house, again spreading chaos and destruction in his path. Aunt Polly entered in time to see him throw a few double somersets, deliver a final mighty hurrah, and sail through the open window, carrying the rest of the flower-pots with him.


Aunt Polly interrogates the boy about what he has been doing:

"Now, sir, what did you want to treat that poor dumb beast so for?"

"I done it out of pity for him—because he hadn't any aunt."

"Hadn't any aunt!—You numskull. What has that got to do with it?"

"Heaps. Because if he'd a had one she'd a burnt him out herself! She'd a roasted his bowels out of him 'thout any more feeling than if he was a human!"

Aunt Polly felt a sudden pang of remorse. This was putting the thing in a new light; what was cruelty to a cat might be cruelty to a boy too.


Here Mark Twain has reversed the customary didactic relationship. The child teaches the adult a lesson, but unlike most instruction of children by adults, Tom's lesson is humorous, ironic, and mischievously pragmatic. Lewis Carroll achieved a similar purpose in Alice in Wonderland when he satirized stories in which "friends" (the Rationalist euphemism for adult authority figures) taught children lessons such as "if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds" (11). However, Mark Twain dramatized the conflict, not merely as a battle between pedagogical styles, but as a question of perspective and values. Tom's prank raises the questions of who should have the inherent right to teach whom, and why.

Similarly, Hoffmann in "Die Geschichte vom Wilden Jäger," or "The Story of the Wild Hunter," reversed a relationship of power and oppression. The hunter is near-sighted, like Aunt Polly. He goes out "to have some fun," as the 1848 translation glosses his intention. Hoffmann was more blunt: "Er … wollte schießen tot den Has" (56)—he wanted to shoot the hare to kill, or, as Evan K. Gibson translates it in Der Struwwelpeter Polyglott, "to see the hare and shoot him dead." But the hare mischievously "sits in his house of leaves and mocks" the hunter. The hunter succumbs to his weaknesses as a human being: under the influence of the heat of the sun and the weight of his gun, he falls asleep.

What follows is a carnivalesque comedy: the hare becomes the hunter, the hunter becomes the hare. In an absurd sequence of events, the hunter plunges down a well, foreshadowing Alice's plunge down the rabbit-hole, the cup of coffee of the hunter's wife is shot out of her hand and the nose of the hare's child is burned by the hot coffee. (Incidentally, perhaps the figure of the hare with the spectacles and gun also foreshadows, though it is probably too audacious to assert that it inspired, the character of the imperious White Rabbit with his white kid-gloves, coat, and watch on a chain in Alice in Wonderland.)

Here, as elsewhere in Struwwelpeter, the density and intensity of physical sensations is noteworthy: a nose being burnt by coffee, a shattering cup, the explosion of the gun, the cries of the hunter fleeing for his life, and before that, the drowsiness induced by the heat, the hopping of the hare—all vivid sensations or actions children can readily imagine, unlike, perhaps, the abstraction of proportionate sizes. The theme of Hoffmann's stories is frequently the comedy of simple sensations. This comedy of simple sensations ("Am Brunnen stand ein großer Hund, trank Wasser dort mit seinem Mund" 18—"At the fountain stood a large dog, drinking water with his mouth") is linked to the inversions and distortions of ordinary relationships: the boy beats the maid; cats warn of disaster; the hare hunts the hunter; a boy flies away in a storm, carried by an umbrella, which is ordinarily an object of protection from storms; and the tailor, who ordinarily sews clothes to protect human bodies, snips off thumbs with giant scissors. Hoffmann extrapolates familiar sensations and figures into grotesque exaggerations that are still linked to the familiar through elements of the mundane.

Though many of Hoffmann's stories appear to teach clearly defined lessons, their didactic stance is not easily defined. Jack Zipes points out in an essay published in 1976 that "no clear-cut reasons are given for the behavior or for the punishment" in Struwwelpeter, and he indicts the book for glorifying obedience to arbitrary authority (165). Some critics have recoiled from the violence of these tales, as Thomas Freeman does in an essay in the Journal of Popular Culture, in which he states "I do not agree that these poems can be justified as suitable reading material for small children. Both the stories of Conrad and Paulina play upon some of the worst fears which can torment a child" (813). Freeman attacks the lessons of the stories as he sees them: "We are not told to be moral for morality's sake. Instead we are told to behave—or else" (813). Other critics, such as Dyrenfurth-Graebsch, have defended the stories as reflecting "the child's simple desire for justice" (814), while still others have regarded the book primarily as satire or comedy and have pointed out that the exaggeration of the stories is readily recognizable as such by children.

My own assessment of the didactic purpose and method of Hoffmann's enduringly popular work is as follows. While the stories—verses and pictures—have undoubted cautionary and instructional content, they are also suffused with a wry combination of humor, extravagance, and pragmatism. The world of Hoffmann's imagination as revealed in this book is a harsh and abrupt one, but it is also vigorous and fascinating. There is an undercurrent of anarchic energy running through this work that is not entirely contained by the moralistic frame. Thus, while some of the stories have obvious morals such as "eat your soup," "don't play with matches," "look where you're going," and "don't rock back on your chair at the table," other stories and scenes, such as "The Wild Hunter," "Flying Robert," and the eponymous Struwwelpeter himself, immortalized upon a pedestal, are less transparent and univocal. Even the stories with the clear, unquestionable morals have an odd, distinct quality that transcends their teaching purpose.

One way of examining this odd quality is to say that there are two conflicting, yet equally valid ways of regarding this book. The first is that Hoffmann evokes, through a vivid exploration of its opposite, a comfortable childhood world in which children do not burn to death, are not dipped in ink or bitten by a dog until they bleed, do not have their thumbs cut off, do not starve to death, or even normally pull tablecloths onto the floor, fall into canals, or fly away in storms—except in their imaginations.

The other, perhaps complementary way of regarding this book is to see it as a work in which children are the central actors. This is not a realm of dry, factual information, nor is it a realm in which adults are in the foreground. It is an active stage, with energetic, assertive figures, starkly outlined, sometimes surprisingly alone. In existential isolation, boldly disobedient characters defy authority and suffer the consequences. Whatever else one may say about Hoffmann's characters, what they do matters. If one were to imagine the improbable fiction of a child reared entirely upon a diet of Struwwelpeter and nothing else, it would be more likely to say, as an adult, "Here I stand, I can do no other," or "Give me liberty or give me death" than "Life has no meaning" or "Hell is other people."

Putting these two somewhat incompatible descriptions of Hoffmann's work together, namely its indirect evocation, through its opposite, of the normal, less violent, less threatening world many bourgeois children inhabit, and its representation of bold if bad existential martyrs of childhood self-assertion, we arrive at a paradoxical vision of a work in which the instincts of self-preservation and the allure of rebellion do battle. The drama of this battle is given sensory shape in the bodily inflictions and pleasures endured and enjoyed by characters in this book—and we should not forget that Hoffmann emphasizes physical pleasures as well as the punishments that are so often the cause of unsympathetic critics' revulsion.

Children are promised the pleasure of "Gut's genug, und ein schönes Bilderbuch" if they behave, but more vivid is the dog's pleasure in the "große Kuchen, gute Leberwurst," and the "Wein für seinen Durst" in the story of Cruel Fredrick, the spectator's voyeuristic pleasure, redeemed by participating in moral instruction, in seeing the child burning "lichterloh," the boys "viel schwärzer als das Mohrenkind," and the humorous pleasure of the visual joke of a soup tureen adorning Kaspar's grave.

If German culture is indeed the "Kultur der Zurück-haltung," Struwwelpeter is its psychomachia as much as Faust or Magister Ludi might be said to be.

What, then, does Mark Twain, the archetypal American author, do with this very German set of stories? Mark Twain's relations with Germany and the Germans of his time were generally cordial. The tone of the relationship was set by Baron von Tauchnitz's voluntary payment of royalties to Samuel Clemens for the German translations of his works at a time when international copyright laws did not yet exist or were entirely ineffective. Mark Twain's writings were well received in Germany, and his popularity made him a literary lion by the 1890s, as Clara's comment about her father's steady stream of visitors indicates. Samuel Clemens devoted considerable energy to learning the German language and chronicled some of his frustration with the complexities of German grammar in his essay "The Awful German Language," published as an appendix to A Tramp Abroad in 1880. He was confounded by the many cases and difficult declinations, but he turned his frustration into comedy, coining some of the most hilarious descriptions of German linguistic practices ever.

In German a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip and what callous disrespect for the girl…. I translate this from a conversation in one of the best German Sunday-school books:

"Gretchen—Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

Wilhelm—She has gone to the kitchen.

Gretchen—Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?

Wilhelm—It has gone to the opera."

To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter. Horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female—tomcats included, of course. A person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it—for in Germany all the women wear either male heads or sexless ones. A person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands and toes are of the female sex and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart and conscience haven't any sex at all. The inventor of the language probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.


Twain was one of the great cultural interpreters of his time, writing widely-circulated books that influenced how Americans saw Europe and Europeans. In A Tramp Abroad and elsewhere, he represented German culture with a mixture of reverence, irreverent comedy, satire, and frustration. He described romantic scenes such as the Lorelei and the castle at Heidelberg with relish, but he was particularly fascinated by the elaborate rituals of the Burschenschaften (student fraternities) at the university, and described their duels in great detail. He pretended to raft down the Neckar as one would raft down the Mississippi River, and he wrote a brief burlesque of a Black Forest novel, which turns on the question of whose manure pile is the largest.

The great difficulty that Twain faced in translating Struwwelpeter was to retain some of the idiomatic flavor of the original while still writing rhyming verse. Translating poetry is a notoriously difficult enterprise, and it is no surprise that translation is often equated with betrayal (the famous Italian pun "traduttore = traditore" illustrates this perception). One can think of the effort of translation as a scale of choices, from literal on the one side to highly interpretive and inventive on the other. The dangers of the literal approach include woodenness, incomprehensibility, or awkwardness because of idioms, metaphors, or phrases that are not used in the target language. Word-for-word translation tends towards lifelessness and artificiality. The perils at the other end of the scale are obvious: departure from the meanings and stylistic qualities of the original, betrayal of the spirit of the source work.

Mark Twain's Slovenly Peter is far more interpretive and inventive than faithful. As Susanna Ashton and Amy Jean Petersen have emphasized in their excellent recent article in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Twain attempted to "fetch the jingle [of the original] along" in his interpretation (36). As Mark Twain himself stated, "Poetry is a sandy road to travel, and the only way to pull through at all is to lay your grammar down and take hold with both hands." This he does, with a vengeance, in Slovenly Peter. Twain loved to dramatize intellectual labor as struggle and conflict, as is evident in his violent metaphors throughout his humorous essays and speeches about the German language.

Ashton and Petersen make a largely positive assessment of Twain's interpretation of Struwwelpeter: "Although full of awkward rhymes and structures, Twain's renditions may be seen as far more faithful to the spirit of the original illustrations and text than the previous translations had been; his difference from the standard English version will strike many readers as all to the good. The language of Twain's work, however, often differs dramatically from the German. He elaborates extensively on scenes that receive little, if any, treatment in the original German version, presumably a reason for his decision to describe his version of Hoffmann's poems as 'freely translated'" (37). This thoughtful judgment has much truth in it, but it perhaps underemphasizes the degree of Mark Twain's interpretation in the process. As in his writings about Germany in A Tramp Abroad and elsewhere, Twain puts a selective and distinctly American spin on the material. By intensifying certain elements that are present in the original, he estranges them from their culture of origin and puts a specifically American and Twainian stamp on them.

In particular, Twain uses a range of American references, intensifies the violence, makes himself as translator/interpreter a subject of his writing, and shifts the morals idiosyncratically. Ashton and Petersen point out Twain's use of American slang, such as when the hare "stole his gun and smooched his specs / And hied him hence with these effects." They do not mention that Twain calls the hare "Brer Rabbit," a name that immediately invokes the wealth of American stories dealing with the trickster rabbit who has connections to Anansi, the trickster god of West Africa, and who was popularized for white readers by Joel Chandler Harris. They also do not mention that Twain does not mitigate the implicit racism of "The Story of the Black Boys," which represents the Moor's darkness as something to be pitied. Twain translates the description of the "kohlpechraben-schwarzer Moor" rather literally as the "coal-pitch-raven-black young Moor." If anything, Twain increases the racism of the episode, for he refers to the Moor as "that poor Missing Link," making an obvious reference to the Darwinian controversy of his time. He also calls the boy "that poor pitch-black piteous Moor," and, most offensively, "that Niggerkin." Where Hoffmann wrote, "Du siehst sie hier, wie schwarz sie sind, viel schwärzer als das Mohrenkind," Twain wrote: "You see them here, all black as sin—Much blacker than that Niggerkin."

Similarly, Twain intensifies the violence of the story in American frontier fashion. Whereas Hoffmann's Friederich "schlug den Hund, der heulte sehr, und trat und schlug ihn immer mehr," (he "beat the dog, which howled greatly, and kicked and beat it more and more"), Twain's Fred'rick "whacked him here, he whacked him there, He whacked with all his might and main, He made him howl and dance with pain." Where Hoffmann stated that wicked Friedrich "peitschte seine Gretchen gar"—"even whipped his Gretchen," Twain uses the vastly more suggestive "He banged the housemaid black and blue." When the hare chases the hunter across the landscape, in German he "läuft davon und springt und schreit: 'Zu Hilf', ihr Leut'! Zu Hilf', ihr Leut'!" (He "ran away, and leaped and cried, 'Help, People, Help, People!'") In Twain's burlesque, Brer Rabbit "drew a bead, the hunter fled, And fled, and fled! and Fled! and FLED! And howled for help as on he sped, howled as if to raise the dead; O'er marsh and moor, through glade and dell, the awful clamor rose and fell, And in its course where passed this flight, All life lay smitten dead with fright."

Twain does well with some of the onomatopoeic qualities of Hoffmann's original, as in the story of the thumb-sucker: "Bang! here goes the door ker-slam! Whoop! the tailor lands ker-blam! Waves his shears, the heartless grub, And calls for Dawmenlutscher-bub. Claps his weapon to the thumb, Snips it square as head of drum," and, as Ashton and Peterson note, he intensifies the boy's cry of pain: "While that lad his tongue unfurled And fired a yell heard 'round the world.'" Some of Hoffmann's bizarre details become more bizarre in Twain's interpretation: the little fishes that laugh at Hans Guck-in-die-Luft "lachen, daß man's hören tut, lachen fort noch lange Zeit; und die Mappe schwimmt schon weit"—they "laugh audibly, continue laughing a long time, and the satchel swims far away already." But for Twain, "Those little fish go swimming by And up at him they cock their eye, And stick their heads out full a-span, And laugh as only fishes can; Laugh and giggle, jeer and snort—How strange to see them thus cavort! Meantime the atlas, gone astray, Has drifted many yards away."

What I am suggesting is that Twain adds a strong flavor of fascination with the absurd, grotesque, and violent to his rendition, going considerably beyond the "spirit of the original." This tendency is rooted, I believe, in the frontier tradition of the tall tale, the brag, the burlesque, of the kind that surfaces in his writings again and again, and that reflects the American experience of conflict, isolation, and the overwhelming forces on the frontier. Furthermore, an undercurrent of Puritan theology is visible in certain details, such as the already-mentioned phrase "black as sin," and, in reaction, in the glee with which Twain dwells on the drunkenness of the dog at Fred'rick's table: "He sips the wine, so rich and red, And feels it swimming in his head, He munches grateful at the cake, And wishes he might never wake From this debauch; while think by think His thoughts dream on, and link by link The liver-sausage disappears, And his hurt soul relents in tears." This is clearly a Presbyterian, not a Lutheran dog.

Hoffmann mentions the wine as a matter of course; Twain, coming from a society in which alcohol was a subject of religious controversy, emphasizes it with libertine pleasure in the violation of taboo. In A Tramp Abroad, he pursued a similar theme when he wrote about relations of German professors with their students:

There seems to be no chilly distance existing between the German students and the professor but, on the contrary, a companionable intercourse, the opposite of chilliness and reserve. When the professor enters a beer-hall in the evening where students are gathered these rise up and take off their caps and invite the old gentleman to sit with them and partake. He accepts and the pleasant talk and the beer flow for an hour or two, and by and by the professor, properly charged and comfortable, gives a cordial good night, while the students stand bowing and uncovered. And then he moves on his happy way homeward with all his vast cargo of learning afloat in his hold. Nobody finds fault or feels outraged. No harm has been done.

                                            #x00A0;   (24)

Twain's final comments here suggest that he is writing pointedly to an American audience that would not take professors drinking with their students, or perhaps any form of drinking of alcoholic beverages, for granted, or approve of it at all.

Ashton and Petersen have emphasized the friendliness and personableness of Twain's persona as he makes himself visible as translator and narrator in the story, addressing an individual reader: "You see them here…." But I wish to add that his asides to the reader seem to me either condescending to the child or meant as jokes aimed at adults. When he writes "The dog's his heir, and this estate That dog inherits, and will ate.*" he adds in the footnote: "*My child, never use an expression like that. It is utterly unprincipled and outrageous to say ate when you mean eat, and you must never do it except when crowded for a rhyme" (15). Similarly when he comments about the phrase "He took his game-bag, powder, gun, And fiercely to the fields he spun,*" he writes in the footnote: "*Baby, you must take notice of this awkward form of speech and never use it. Except in translating" (22).

In a curious way, the American quality of Twain's Slovenly Peter contrasts with the communal or collective German quality of Struwwelpeter. Hoffmann's classic work is a complex instruction book, not so much in the manners as in the Sichtweise or social perspective of German society, with its conflicts about control of the body and of its impulses: issues of Mäßigung, Zucht, Anstand, all common words in German childrearing that have few or no equivalents in American English, at least in idiomatic conversation about childrearing. Mark Twain emphasizes himself as the interpreter and teller of the tales, which he embellishes with themes that are preoccupations of the frontier. He succeeds in making vivid renditions, particularly of the stories of the girl with the matches and "Cruel Fred'rick."

Yet Mark Twain misses something essentially German in the original, and substitutes something quintessentially American in the process. Perhaps his subtly eccentric interpretation of the "Story of Flying Robert" provides an aptly epigrammatic conclusion symbolic of this transposition. Hoffmann concludes with the cryptic image of an unknowable fate that befalls boy, umbrella, and hat as they are carried away:

    Schirm und Robert fliegen dort
    durch die Wolken immer fort.
    Und der Hut fliegt weit voran,
    stößt zuletzt am Himmel an.
    Wo der Wind sie hingetragen,
    ja! das weiß kein Mensch zu sagen.

In Evan Gibson's translation:

    Robert and umbrella there
    still upon the gusty air,

    while his hat blows far ahead;
    from the earth it now has fled.
    Where the wind blew them away
    no one here below can say.

Though Hoffmann emphasizes universal limits: the hat finally hits heaven, and no human being can tell where the three were carried. But Twain describes it thus:

    And so he sails and sails and sails,
    Through banks of murky clouds, and wails,
    And weeps and mourns, poor draggled rat,
    Because he can't o'ertake his hat.
    Oh, where on high can that hat be?
    When you find out, pray come tell me.

Both Hoffmann's and Twain's poems are images of human fate in the universe; but Hoffmann's has a stoic agnosticism, a recognition of limits to human knowledge. Twain's "poor draggled rat" is a pitiful soul, absurdly grieving for a lost hat while flying through the vast unknown, and the question Twain wants to have his listeners answer him is not what becomes of the boy, but where the hat has gone. Just as he misses the subtly melancholy yet resigned tone of Hoffmann's flight, the thing he should perhaps have been "auf der Hut" for, Twain misses something of the German quality of Struwwelpeter, and substitutes for it a new hat, though not old hat, to be sure.

Works Cited

Anonymous. Poetischer Bilderschatz der vornehmsten Biblischen Geschichthen des alten und neuen Testamentes, zum erbaulichen Vergnügen der Jugend ans Licht gestellt. Leipzig, 1758.

Ashton, Susanna and Amy Jean Petersen. "Fetching the Jingle Along: Mark Twain's Slovenly Peter." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 20.1 (1995): 36-41.

Basedow, Johann Bernhard. Das Elementarwerk: Ein Vorrath der besten Erkenntnisse. 4 vols. Dessau, 1770-1774.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. 2nd ed. Ed. Donald J. Gray. Norton Critical Edition. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1992.

Comenius, Johann Amos. Neuer Orbis Pictus f. Kinder in 5 Sprachen. Leipzig, 1758.

Demers, Patricia and Gordon Moyles, eds. From Instruction to Delight: An Anthology of Children's Literature to 1850. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1982.

Doderer, Klaus and Helmut Müller, eds. Das Bilderbuch. Weinheim and Basel: Beltz, 1973.

Dyrenfurth-Graebsch, Irene. Geschichte des deutschen Jugendbuches. Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1942.

Freeman, Thomas. "Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter: An Inquiry into the Effects of Violence in Children's Literature." Journal of Popular Culture 10.4 (1977): 808-20.

Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings. D. Appleton & Co., 1880.

Hessenberg, Eduard, ed. Struwwelpeter-Hoffmann erzählt aus seinem Leben. Frankfurt am Main: Eng-lert & Schlosser, 1926.

Hoffmann, Heinrich. Lebenserinnerungen. Frankfurt: Insel-Verlag, 1985.

―――――――. Der Struwwelpeter Polyglott. Ed. Walter Sauer. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch, 1984.

Stone, Albert E., Jr. The Innocent Eye: Childhood in Mark Twain's Imagination. New Haven: Archon, 1961. Rpt. Yale UP, 1970.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Walter Blair and Victor Fischer. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: U of California P, 1985.

――――――――. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Ed. Lee Clark Mitchell. World's Classics. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1993.

――――――――. Slovenly Peter. [Der Struwwelpeter.] Translated into English Jingles from the Original German of Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann. New York: The March-banks Press, 1935.

―――――――. A Tramp Abroad. Ed. Charles Neider. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

Zipes, Jack. "Down with Heidi, Down with Struwwelpeter, Three Cheers for the Revolution." Children's Literature 5 (1976): 162-80.

David Blamires (essay date autumn 2000)

SOURCE: Blamires, David. "Social Satire in English Struwwelpeter Parodies." Princeton University Library Chronicle 62, no. 1 (autumn 2000): 45-58.

[In the following essay, Blamires explores a selection of obscure early-twentieth-century parodies and satires of Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter.]

In the century between 1850 and 1950 Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter was so popular in the British nursery that it gave rise to a considerable number of parodies and adaptations. During the Boer War (1899–1902), the Great War of 1914–1918, and the Hitler régime of 1933–1945 the book provided a model for several clever political squibs: Harold Begbie and F. Carruthers Gould's The Political Struwwelpeter (1899) and The Struwwelpeter Alphabet (1900); E. V. Lucas's Swollen-Headed William (1914); Truffle Eater, by Oistros (pseudonym of Humbert Wolfe) (1933); Robert and Philip Spence's Struwwelhitler (1941); and Robert Colling-Pyper and Margaret Stavridi's Schicklgrüber (1943).1 In addition to these propaganda pieces, however, there were a few social satires of a more purely playful character: Petrol Peter (1906); The Marlborough Struwwelpeter (1908); The Modern Struwwelpeter (1936); and a couple of Guinness advertising booklets produced during the 1930s and later.2 I want to look at these in a little more detail.

When Petrol Peter, with verses by Archibald Williams (1871–1934) and pictures by A. Wallis Mills (1878–1940), was published by Methuen in 1906, Hoffmann's picture book provided a splendid series of models for a satirical attack on the danger and disruptiveness of the recently invented motorcar. The problem with satires, however, is that their topicality usually constitutes a block to later understanding as the targets of humor fade into obscurity. Now, virtually a century later, perhaps only people interested in the history of the motorcar will immediately recognize the name of René Panhard (1841–1908), the French engineer and manufacturer who produced the first vehicle with an internal combustion engine mounted at the front of the chassis—the prototype of the modern automobile. Working with Emile Levassor, he put this vehicle on sale in 1892, and it was still a novelty in 1906. A Panhard motorcar figures twice in "The Story of Cruel Adolphus" (the counterpart to Hoffmann's "Cruel Frederick"):

    Adolphus was as bad a man
    As ever made a Panhard pan.
    He dearly loved to blind and choke
    In clouds of dust all passing folk.
    This villain, where the road was narrow,
    Upset a costermonger's barrow:
    And oh! a crime of deeper hue,
    Spilled three perambulators too!

When Adolphus drives straight at a dog lying in the road, the dog swells to monstrous size, wrecks his Panhard, and sends Adolphus flying, causing a huge doctor's bill. In the picture, the dog takes the place and role of the doctor sitting next to the bed where the heavily bandaged Adolphus lies prostrate.

The drivers of the earliest roofless motorcars needed to be thickly clad for their journeys, and for this animal-like appearance Struwwelpeter himself provided a grotesque model. The eponymous Petrol Peter is wrapped up in a dirty fur coat, wears goggles and a big hat, and has hands filthy from dealing with the car. A man in comparable attire corresponds to Hoffmann's hunter with the hare, but Williams's verses and Mills's illustrations convert him into a "strange suitor," whose bearlike garb causes his offering of flowers to be rejected by the young lady he is attempting to woo, after which a pack of dogs savagely attacks him.

Like many other inventions, the motorcar was perceived as both fascinating and dangerous, and its enthusiasts were regarded as objects of derision. Only a couple of years later, in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908), we see Toad described in a very similar fashion. Rat tells Badger that Toad has had seven smashes and been in hospital three times, and "as for the fines he's had to pay it's simply awful to think of" (chapter 4). Toad's escapades with motorcars take up much of the latter part of the book. In his guise as a washerwoman, having taken over the steering wheel of a car whose driver offered him a lift, he gives voice to his monomania: "Ho, ho! I am the Toad, the motor car snatcher, the prison-breaker, the Toad who always escapes! Sit still, and you shall know what driving really is, for you are in the hands of the famous, the skilful, the entirely fearless Toad!" (chapter 10). The sentiments expressed in The Wind in the Willows have the same flavor of fantastic comic adventure we find in Petrol Peter, but the earlier book, like its source, has a sharper edge to it.

In "Headlong Henry," the counterpart to "Harriet and the Matches," the car quickly gets out of Henry's control and subsequently catches fire. Unlike Harriet, Henry survives; but the destruction of his car, now reduced to "some twisted scrap," is described as a thousand pounds gone up in smoke. Motorists come in for another drubbing in "The Story of the Magistrate and the Motorists," which corresponds to Hoffmann's "Story of the Inky Boys." The black boy is now a chimney sweep, while a magistrate takes over the role of Agrippa and punishes the three motorists for their arrogant treatment of the man who gets in their way. Their cars are "forfeit to the Crown."

Females figure even less often in the stories of Petrol Peter than in Struwwelpeter. We have already seen how Harriet has been replaced by a male figure, and in "Disobedient Frederick," which corresponds to Hoffmann's "Little Suck-a-Thumb," the stern figure of Mama is replaced by an equally stern Papa. Here Frederick is forbidden to touch a motorbike ("A belted Bobby always waits / For boys who mote outside the gates") and is punished by "the Peeler," or policeman, referred to as a "license-hunting Man-in-Blue" who can catch any motorized miscreant with his seven-league boots.3 Mama does appear in "Wilful William," the equivalent of Hoffmann's "Fidgety Philip," where the story is readily adapted to show the boy falling out of the back of a car and becoming "plastered o'er with mud."

"The Story of Johnny Passe-Partout" reflects the global role of the British Empire at its height. Dealing with world travel, it satirizes our insouciant hero as he nearly comes to grief with a llama in the Himalayas and alligators in the Amazon. (Let us forget the common and probably deliberate confusion of llamas and lamas in the Himalayas.) Two natives rescue poor Johnny from the river, while the alligators commiserate:

    "Oh!" they cried, "how you are dripping!
    Isn't exploration ripping
    When one makes a little splash,
    Even if the method's rash?
    How romantic this will look
    When you write your story-book!"

"The Story of Flighty Michael" concludes the book with an adaptation of "Flying Robert" to early experiments with the aeroplane.

All that remains is "The Story of the Man Who Wouldn't Take Any Exercise," which turns upside-down the theme of "Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup." The motorcar apparently was more of a danger to health than the hackney carriage or the hansom cab in reducing the opportunities for physical exercise. Williams's stand-in for Augustus is named Sir Quinbus Flestrin, the pseudonym of Arthur Murphy, who wrote a satire on the eighteenth-century apothecary, quack, and miscellaneous writer John Hill (1716–1775). Sir Quinbus, who was once "as slim as slim could be," now has a powerful Napier to drive, gives up his horse, and as a result becomes as fat as Daniel Lambert, who weighed 739 pounds at his death.4

Petrol Peter satirizes a new fashion and a select section of society—those wealthy enough to afford the huge expense of a motorcar—and there is a good deal of comedy at the expense of those who were daring or foolhardy enough to try out this new means of locomotion. Archibald Williams wrote a variety of books on engineering, railways, modern inventions, exploration, and things to make, so his humor is accordingly affectionate rather than envious or mordant. But the nature of his commentary and his allusions in Petrol Peter make it plain that he was writing for a comfortably off, middle- to upper-class readership.

The Marlborough Struwwelpeter (1908), by A. de C. Williams (probably no relation to Archibald),5 was aimed at the same readership but a more restricted audience. It was published not by one of the major London publishing houses, but by the "Times" Office, Marlborough, and its chief purchasers were presumably present and former pupils of Marlborough College, their parents and relatives, and the teachers and staff. The college, one of the leading Victorian public schools, opened on 20 August 1843, when two hundred boys of all ages up to sixteen arrived at its portals. By the time Arthur de Coetlogon Williams entered the school in September 1905, it had celebrated its jubilee and established its own character.6 A good deal of Williams's humor depends on inside information, but his book is still amusing as a general satire on the English public school of the early twentieth century.

The Marlborough Struwwelpeter is the product of an eighteen-year-old still at school.7 It is dedicated to "J. B.," elsewhere referred to as "Jonathan," with whom Williams for a long time shared a study. Unfortunately, the Marlborough College Register does not list anyone named Jonathan among those in Williams's age range or house (B2), so it seems that he disguised his friend by giving him a pseudonym.8 Jonathan appears later in the book as one of the "Wicked Wags" (Hoffmann's "Inky Boys"), as "Jumpy Jonathan" ("Fidgety Philip"), and as "Johnny Nose-in-Book" ("Johnny Head-in-Air"). The illustrations clearly depict the same person. Various other boys are also named, usually with nicknames, so it is impossible to identify any of them with certainty. Rather more certain is the identification of "Uncle Upcott," who plays the role of Hoffmann's Agrippa in the "Wicked Wags." This can only be Lewis Edward Upcott, who joined the staff of Marlborough College in 1875 and remained until 1911. He was clearly a figure of some authority, the author of An Introduction to Greek Sculpture (1887).

The Marlborough Struwwelpeter follows Hoffmann's sequence of pictures and verses very closely. The introductory verses speak of those who have been "Good in Classroom, good in School, / Good—without being quite a fool" and thus are "allowed to look / At this pretty Picture Book." By contrast, "Awful naughty Bloods and Bores / Jibbering of Cricket Scores" may look only at "J. Wisden's Cricket Book."9 The figure in The Marlborough Struwwelpeter that replaces Hoffmann's angel with the open book is a bearded, bespectacled master wearing a mortarboard and very like "Uncle Upcott." The picture of Struwwelpeter is transformed into "The Neglected Lad," that is, the "poor Marlburian lad," wearing a "weird cap" and with hands "daubed with ink." He has "a perfect slouch" and clutches a "kish" or cushion under his arm. If one takes away the stiff Edwardian shirt collar, this description fits the traditional schoolboy for much of the twentieth century.

The next story is of "Cruel Dux," that is, the captain of the house rugby team, who attacks even his house prefect and his forward, who is busily engaged in brewing tea and cooking sausage and mash on a little gas ring placed on top of a book. Dux, however, has miscalculated with the forward, who strikes back with a blow to the face that sends the captain to bed "in Sicker," namely, the sick bay. The muffins that he is offered on a "steward stick" are "enough to make him sick," as he can hear the match in the distance. The story ends with a comically appalling rhyme: "In future he will be more deft; he / Won't slang his forwards if they're hefty."

Smoking seems to have always been a problem for school authorities. We are thus not surprised to see "Harriet and the Matches" transformed with little effort into "The Dreadful Story about Tomkins and the Tobacco." Here the protagonist tries to escape being caught smoking by a prefect and puts his pipe into his pocket, where, predictably, it sets a box of matches on fire and leads to the end of poor Tomkins. The role of the cats is interestingly modified. They are now the miscreant's friends, and their complacency at Tomkins's fate and their exaggerated "moralising allegations," repeated to everybody, bring them into disrepute. They are guilty of that very English sin of being prigs. Only when they drop "their moralising fads" are they able to become "quite decent lads" and be included in the group again.

"The Story of the Wicked Wags" diverges in one important respect from that of the "Inky Boys": the boy who is the object of the others' antagonism is not a black youth, but Starling, a fair-haired boy who is late with handing in his verses. (I assume these are exercises in composing Latin verse, at this time a staple of the process of learning Latin and especially the quantity of syllables.) As mentioned earlier, Jonathan is one of the other boys, and the one who faces him on the other side of the picture is a black youth, presumably the one called Bambasta. Together with a third boy, Polos, all are soused by Uncle Upcott in "Wisdom's well." Though wiser, still none of them manages to get his verses in on time. Williams has thus removed the racial slur at the center of Hoffmann's verses and replaced it with a failure on the part of all four boys.

"The Man That Went Out Shooting" is skillfully adapted as "The Story of the Volunteer and His Foe" and focuses on the School Volunteer Corps, which, though active much earlier, was formally enrolled and attached to the Second Wiltshire Regiment. The "Good Sergeant Patrick" mentioned in the last few lines of the story does not figure in the college register or the history, but no doubt he was a real person. The well in Hoffmann's story has been turned into a drum that the volunteer jumps into.

Sport plays an all-important role in English public school life, and "The Story of the Snob-Fiend" (Hoffmann's "Little Suck-a-Thumb") deals with a peculiarly Marlburian form of cricket—"that horrid game of Snob." This was an informal kind of cricket, played in the middle of the court, but using play boxes purloined from the covered playground as wickets. Occasionally a ball would be driven into the common room windows. Eventually the nuisance caused the game to be modified and wickets to be chalked instead on a wall skirting the Bath road. In 1893 the game was described as dragging on a hole-and-corner existence. Robert, the boy who replaces Conrad in this story, is a devotee of Snob and is warned to avoid the game by a plump red-coated, white-haired gentleman referred to as "Uncle." This man does not look anything like Uncle Upcott, so it is unclear whom he represents. Robert is punished by having his legs struck off by Mr. W. G., that is, the famous batsman W. G. Grace (1848–1915), who scored his hundredth century in first-class cricket in 1895. He was a regular and much admired visitor to the college.

"The Story of the Lad Who Would Not Sweat" continues the sporting theme with a boy called Tupper, who one day gives up rugby for Latin prose and, especially, Catullus. Consequently, for lack of exercise, he grows so fat that on the fifth day he bursts. This reversal of Hoffmann's "Augustus" parallels that in Petrol Peter.

"Jumpy Jonathan" and "Johnny Nose-in-Book" have already been mentioned in connection with Williams's dedication verses, so it only remains to deal with his adaptation of "Flying Robert." The boy is named Smith—significantly, the commonest of all English surnames—and is a conceited fellow. His success causes his head to swell and his pink-and-yellow waistcoat and crude-colored socks to buoy him up in the air. He commits the unpardonable sin of being stuck up and above the rest. The book thus ends with these lines:

    "What supports him?" I hear said:
    Why, the vapours in his head,
    Waistcoat, tie, and socks—'tis plain—go
    Looking for a kindred rainbow.

Of the remaining Struwwelpeter parodies from the 1930s, The Modern Struwwelpeter (1936), by Jan Struther and Ernest Shepard, need not detain us long. It is not a parody, but more an updating of Heinrich Hoffmann's themes and targets with only occasional allusions to the original book.10

Instead, I want to conclude with two of the advertising booklets produced by Arthur Guinness and Sons in celebration of their amazing product. Each booklet presents a Hoffmann character among a set of parodies of popular verses by authors as diverse as Mary and Jane Taylor, W. S. Gilbert, and Thomas Hood. Prodigies and Prodigals provides a hilarious take-off of "Fidgety Philip," whose nerves and lack of appetite are quickly cured. Philip declares:

    "If each day I could but get a
    Glass of this, I'd soon be better.
    For a month, dear parents, pray
    Give me a Guinness every day!"


Guinness is presented, of course, as a universal cure-all and promoter of robust health, so it will not surprise us to see that "The Story of Augustus" in The Guinness Legends and Other Verses cannot countenance the original conclusion to Hoffmann's tale. It reverses Hoffmann's description and starts with Augustus as "a puny lad" who, at twenty, was "like a rake." But:

    One day, one eventful day,
    He cried—"I will not fade away,
    So bring me Guinness quick, I pray,
    I'll drink a Guinness every day."


The result is a foregone conclusion. The Guinness booklets are the acme of advertising neatness and wit, adroit and genial adaptations of popular classics of verse to promote a product.

The parodies I have looked at here are testimony to the adaptability of Struwwelpeter and its classic status as an English nursery book. The original pictures and stories embody so many key experiences in the child's negotiation of independence vis-à-vis its parents that they provide manifold opportunities for parody and social comment. Modern educational theory and practice, however, have undergone such changes that Hoffmann's audacious send-ups of authoritarian bogy-figures tend to be viewed, in some quarters at least, as too disturbing for children. Struwwelpeter has certainly declined in popularity in Britain since World War II, with the result that English parodies have disappeared. Children's pleasure at being scared has been transferred from the moral context of parent-child relationships to other areas. The processes of socialization and education have to an overwhelming extent had their threatening and coercive aspect removed, so Struwwelpeter has gradually become an isolated phenomenon.


1. The titles listed here are catalogued in Reiner Rühle, "Böse Kinder": Kommentierte Bibliographie von Struwwelpetriaden und Max-und-Moritziaden mit biographischen Daten zu Verfassern und Illustratoren (Osnabrück: Wenner, 1999); see entries 1230 and 1231 (Begbie and Gould), 1243 (Lucas), 1252 (Oistros), 1253 (Spence and Spence), and 1254 (Colling-Pyper and Stavridi). For more on Struwwelpeter satires, see David Blamires, "Some German and English Political Travesties of Struwwelpeter," in Connections: Essays in Honour of Eda Sagarra on the Occasion of Her 60th Birthday, ed. Peter Skrine, Rosemary E. Wallbank-Turner, and Jonathan West (Stuttgart: Hans-Dieter Heinz Akademischer Verlag, 1993), 19-27; Blamires, "Englische Struwwelpeter-Parodien," in Struwwelpeter Gestern und Heute, ed. G. H. Herzog et al. (Frankfurt am Main: Sinemis, 1999), 112-26; Walter Sauer, "Der Struwwelpeter—alias Adolf Schicklgruber. Zu einer unbekannten politischen Struwwelpeterparodie aus Indien," Aus dem Antiquariat, no. 4 (1998): 252-63; Robert Colling-Pyper and Margaret Stavridi, Schicklgrüber—Some Cautionary Tales of Modern Times, ed. Walter Sauer (Andernach: Kari Verlag Kathrin Richter, 2000).

2. Petrol Peter, The Marlborough Struwwelpeter, and The Modern Struwwelpeter are listed in Rühle, "Böse Kinder," as entries 1201, 1189, 748a.

3. The term "peeler" is derived from the surname of Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850), who with the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 introduced the first disciplined police force into London. More common, though, and still in use today is the term "bobby," derived from Peel's forename.

4. Daniel Lambert (1770–1809) was known as a prodigy in nature, and at his death at age thirty-nine he weighed 52 stone 11 pounds, as was stated on his tombstone in St Martin's burial ground, Stamford. Until the age of nineteen he had been of reasonable proportions, though tall, but afterward he gradually increased in size and, after a period in which he was the keeper of the prison in Leicester, gained an additional income by charging people who wanted to see for themselves how corpulent he was. Clearly, Lambert's situation was not one to be envied, but he was extremely well known. In the alphabet book entitled A Fancy Battledore (1806) a picture of him is included under "L" (copy in the Opie Collection of Children's Literature in the Bodleian Library, Oxford).

The Napier was a racing car produced by the firm of D. Napier and Son, the first leading manufacturer of such vehicles. In 1905 a Napier achieved a world land speed record of 104.6 mph. It was obviously much in the public eye and well suited for inclusion in Petrol Peter.

5. Born on 27 September 1890, our author is credited in the British Library catalogue with nothing other than The Marlborough Struwwelpeter.

6. A. G. Bradley, A. C. Champneys, and J. W. Baines, A History of Marlborough College during Fifty Years from Its Foundation to the Present Time (London: John Murray, 1893).

7. Williams left Marlborough in midsummer 1909 and read Classical Moderations at Balliol College, Oxford, gaining a first-class degree and entering the Indian Civil Service in 1913. He served in the Great War as a second lieutenant in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers from 1916 and in 1936 was secretary to the Government Legal Department, Bengal. These biographical details are taken from The Marlborough College Register from 1843–1933, 8th ed. (Marlborough: The College, 1936), 512.

8. If one guesses Jonathan to be a code name for David (a suggestion made by Ruth Bottigheimer), one possibility is Aubrey David Mapleton Farrar (1892–1929), who was also in B2. In addition there were three Johns in B2 around the same time—Montagu John Vincent-Jackson (1892–1916), John Sandford Dobson (b. 1892), and Arthur John Maurice Round (b. 1891). I have not been able to establish a special link for any of them with Williams.

9. This latter is John Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack, an annual compendium of information about cricket that was first issued in 1864 and is still going strong today. Early editions of Wisden are much sought after by cricket enthusiasts.

10. Jan Struther, the pen name of Jan Anstruther (1901–1953), is best known as the author of the novel Mrs. Miniver (1939). The illustrator Ernest Shepard (1879–1976) is beloved for his drawings for A. A. Milne's When We Were Very Young (1924), Winnie the Pooh (1926), Now We are Six (1927), and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), and for Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1931).

11. Prodigies and Prodigals Brought to Book by Guinness, illustrated by Antony Groves-Raines (London: John Waddington, n.d.).

12. The Guinness Legends and Other Verses (London: John Waddington, [1934]); listed in Rühle, "Böse Kinder," 1205.



Knoepflmacher, U. C. "Validating Defiance: From Heinrich Hoffmann to Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Maurice Sendak." Princeton University Library Chronicle 62, no. 1 (autumn 2000): 83-107.

Charts the influence of Hoffmann' Struwwelpeter upon the juvenile works of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Maurice Sendak.

Sauer, Walter. "Struwwelpeter Naturalized: McLoughlin Imprints of Slovenly Peter and Related Books." Princeton University Library Chronicle 62, no. 1 (autumn 2000): 16-30.

Presents an overview of the publishing history of English-language editions of Der Struwwelpeter.

Stahl, J. D. "Struwwelpeter and the Development of the American Children's Book." Princeton University Library Chronicle 62, no. 1 (autumn 2000): 31-44.

Offers an analysis of the influence of Struwwelpeter on the evolution of American children's literature.

Zipes, Jack. "Struwwelpeter and the Crucifixion of the Child." In Struwwelpeter: Fearful Stories and Vile Pictures to Instruct Good Little Folks, pp. 1-21. Venice, Calif.: Feral House, 1999.

Discusses the influences behind and origins of Hoffmann's original edition of Der Struwwelpeter.

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