Grimm Brothers

views updated May 14 2018


folklore and literature

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786–1859), the two oldest surviving children of Philipp Wilhelm Grimm and Dorothea Zimmer Grimm, may be unique in the history of letters both for the breadth of their scholarly achievements and for the length of their scholarly collaboration. Away from home to attend school in Cassel and, later, at the University of Marburg, they shared lodgings and the study of law. As adults, they held complementary positions as librarians in Cassel, librarians and professors at the University of Göttingen, and professors at the University of Berlin; they also shared a home, a circumstance unchanged by Wilhelm's marriage to Henriette Dorothea Wild in 1825. Whether working together or independently, the Grimm brothers made unparalleled contributions to the disciplines of folklore and linguistics, inventing both fields of study and methodologies appropriate to those fields.

folklore and literature

Much of the Grimms' popular reputation rests upon their collection of fairy tales, Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). This work may have been inspired by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, writers who published an early collection of German folk songs, The Boy's Magic Horn (Des Knaben Wunderhorn, 1805). In any case, letters that Wilhelm and Jacob exchanged in 1805, while Jacob was working for Friedrich Carl von Savigny in Paris, show both brothers developing an interest in literature, oral and written, of earlier times. Their collecting resulted in one volume of fairy tales in 1812, which was dedicated to the wife and infant son of Achim von Arnim; a second volume followed in 1815, and a third in 1822. Editions published in 1819, 1837, 1840, 1843, 1850, and 1857 revised texts, added new tales and, occasionally, omitted old ones for a total of more than two hundred tales. Ludwig Grimm, a younger brother, illustrated the 1819 second edition and Wilhelm's son, Herman, published an eighth edition in 1864. The second and subsequent editions, which were largely Wilhelm's work, expanded, edited, and polished the tales, creating in the process a paradigm for the literary fairy tale and making them more acceptable for a child audience. In the years before and during World War II, the tales were sometimes used to support a Nazi agenda; more recently, feminist, psychological, mythic, allegorical, Marxist, and other critics have variously interpreted the tales. Kinder- und Hausmärchen was first translated into English by Edgar Taylor (German Popular Stories, 1823). His translation, illustrated by George Cruikshank, has been followed by numerous others, among which are notable translations by Margaret Hunt (1884), Ralph Manheim (1977), Jack Zipes (1987), and Maria Tatar (2004). The fairy tales also live on in translations into more than one hundred languages as well as in films, sound recordings, musicals, poems, and Web sites.

Together, the brothers also published German Legends in two volumes (1816, 1818); in the foreword they defined the differences among legend, history, and fairy tale. Either together or separately, the brothers eventually published a number of Irish, Icelandic, Spanish, Danish, Latin, and additional German texts dating from the eighth to the sixteenth century. Jacob alone published Teutonic Mythology in two volumes (Deutsche Mythologie, 1835), in which he supplemented the all too slim extant material with parallels in folk tales and Norse myth. Wilhelm's two early studies of runes (1821, 1828), an alphabet used by German peoples early in the first millennium, anticipated subsequent interest in that field, and Jacob's critical edition of Reynard the Fox (Reinhart Fuchs, 1834), including variants of this trickster tale in Latin, Flemish, and multiple dialects of German, remains a model of early textual criticism.


Jacob Grimm advanced the methodology of historical and comparative linguistics. In the process he both codified important phonological changes and also created the vocabulary to describe them. The most famous of these, the First Germanic Sound Shift, is often called Grimm's Law, although the Danish scholar Rasmus Rask had noted the phenomenon earlier. This theory posits nine original Indo-European consonants, all of which underwent changes in Germanic languages. Thus, for example, Germanic languages like English and German have the consonant f in words where all other Indo-European languages have the consonant p (English father, Latin pater). In the last two decades of the twentieth century Grimm's Law was challenged, most directly by the glottalic theory of Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and VjaČeslav V. Ivanov, a theory that would require changing previously held views of the consonant patterns of Indo-European, the location of the Indo-European homeland, the migratory patterns of these people, and the identity of those modern languages that most closely resemble Indo-European. Regardless of the eventual outcome of this debate, Jacob Grimm's theoretical method remains sound. So do his contributions in describing other early phonological shifts and the vocabulary to name them, for example, umlaut, the vowel shifts that produce noun inflections such as mouse-mice, and ablaut, the vowel shifts that produce verb inflections such as write-wrote-written. Jacob describes these and other matters in the monumental German Grammar (Deutsche Grammatik, 1819–1837); he continued this work in a two-volume History of the German Language (Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, 1848).

The last large project the brothers undertook together was the German Dictionary. They began this project after they had been expelled from the University of Göttingen for refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to Ernst August, the new king of Hanover who had unilaterally revoked the country's constitution. The German Dictionary, originally conceived to include all German words from the time of Martin Luther to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, eventually expanded to include words both earlier and later, along with etymologies and illustrative quotations. This work anticipated the modern practices of describing rather than prescribing usage and of including all varieties of words. Jacob did most of the work on volume 1 (A-Biermolke, 1854), Wilhelm most of the work on volume 2, which was published posthumously (1860). Jacob had completed volume 3 through the word frucht at the time of his death in 1863. The thirty-third and final volume of the dictionary was finally published a century later, an example of the broad and lasting legacy of the Grimm brothers in the field of linguistics.

See alsoCruikshank, George; Germany.


Primary Sources

Grimm, Jacob. Reinhart Fuchs. Berlin, 1835.

——. Deutsche Grammatik. 4 vols. Göttingen, 1819–1837.

——. Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. 2 vols. Leipzig, 1848; 2nd ed., 1853.

——. Teutonic Mythology. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. Reprint. New York, 2004. Translation of Deutsche Mythologie (1835; 4th ed., 1855).

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. Translated and edited by Donald Ward. Philadelphia, 1981. Translation of Deutsche Sagen (Vol. 1, 1816, Vol. 2, 1818.).

——. Deutsches Wörterbuch. Vols. 1–3. Leipzig, 1854–1864. Reprint. Munich, 1999 (33 vols.). CD-ROM: Trier, 2000.

——. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Translated by Jack Zipes. 3rd ed., illustrated by Johnny B. Grulle. New York, 2003. Translation of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Vol. 1, 1812; Vol. 2, 1815; Vol. 3, 1822; 7th ed., 1857).

——. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. Edited and translated by Maria Tatar. Introduction by A. S. Byatt. New York, 2004. Translations of forty-six tales and two prefaces.

Grimm, Wilhelm. Über deutsche Runen. Göttingen, 1821.

——. Zur Literatur der Runen: Nebst Mittheilung runischer Alphabete und gothischer Fragmente aus Handschriften. Vienna, 1828.

——. Die deutsche Heldensage. Göttingen, 1829. Reprint. Darmstadt, 1957.

Secondary Sources

Gamkrelidze, Thomas V., and Vjačeslav V. Ivanov. Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture. 2nd ed. Translated by Johanna Nichols. Edited by Werner Winter. Berlin and New York, 2000.

Hettinga, Donald R. The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy. New York, 2001.

Michaelis-Jena, Ruth. The Brothers Grimm. New York and London, 1970.

Peppard, Murray B. Paths through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York, 1971.

Elizabeth L. Holtze

Grimm Brothers

views updated May 17 2018


GRIMM BROTHERS . Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm (17851863) and his brother Wilhelm Karl (17861859) were born in Hanau, Germany, where their father was town clerk and later Amtmann (local administrator). Their happy childhood ended with his death in 1796; thereafter they had a constant struggle against poverty, with several younger children to support. The brothers worked in close harmony all their lives, and their researches into early Germanic language, literature, antiquities, and religion formed the basis for future studies in these fields.

At the university in Marburg the brothers became interested in medieval literature. The family moved to Kassel, and Jakob worked as a clerk in the War Office and later as secretary to the legation in the war against Napoleon. Finally both brothers were employed in the library of the elector of Hanover. From about 1806 they were collecting popular tales and encouraging their friends to do so, believing that this material, never previously taken seriously by scholars, was essential for the study of Germanic mythology. The first volume of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Household and children's tales) appeared in 1812. The brothers worked unceasingly, reading manuscripts, recording oral material, and continually exploring new fields. They published poems from the Icelandic Eddas, corresponded with Walter Scott (with whom they compared Scottish and Danish ballads), and worked on runic inscriptions and Slavic languages. In 1816 and 1818 they brought out Deutsche Sagen (German legends) taken from printed and oral sources. Jakob concentrated on philology and early law, publishing Deutsche Grammatik (German grammar) in 1819 and Deutsche Rechtsaltertümer (German legal antiquities) in 1828. Wilhelm worked mainly on medieval German literature and the heroic epics, and brought out Die deutschen Heldensagen (The German heroic sagas) in 1829.

At first they refused teaching posts, but unsympathetic treatment by the elector forced Jakob to become professor of philology at Göttingen in 1830; Wilhelm joined him there and proved a brilliant lecturer. Wilhelm married Dorothea Wild in 1825; it was a happy marriage, and Jakob continued to live with his brother and sister-in-law. In 1835 Jakob published Deutsche Mythologie (Germanic mythology), which established the link between German and Scandinavian myth and led to a new interest in Germanic antiquity throughout Europe. Many English students came to Göttingen, among them the Anglo-Saxon scholar John Kemble. However, once more the brothers had to leave when the reactionary duke of Cumberland became king of Hanover.

They were invited to work in Saxony on a comprehensive dictionary of the German language, and when the liberal Friedrich Wilhelm became king of Prussia in 1840 he persuaded them to move to Berlin, to live in financial security and lecture at the university and the academy. This meant a great change in their lives, but a happy one, and both brothers worked indefatigably until the end, Jakob surviving Wilhelm by four years. By their lives of devoted scholarship they made a major contribution to the serious study of folk tales and comparative mythology, and showed how language could be studied scientifically as a means of exploring humankind's early religious beliefs.


Denecke, Ludwig. Jacob Grimm und sein Bruder Wilhelm. Stuttgart, 1971.

Grimm, Jakob. Deutsche Mythologie. Göttingen, 1835. Translated from the fourth edition as Teutonic Mythology, 4 vols., and edited by James Steven Stallybrass (1966; reprint, Gloucester, Mass., 1976).

Grimm's Fairy Tales. Translated by Francis P. Magoun, Jr., and Alexander H. Krappe. Carbondale, Ill., 1960.

Michaelis-Jena, Ruth. The Brothers Grimm. London, 1970.

New Sources

Haase, Donald. The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions. Detroit, 1993.

Kamenetsky, Christa. The Brothers Grimm & Their Critics: Folktales and the Quest for Meaning. Athens, 1992.

McGlathery, James M. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Urbana, 1988.

Zipes, Jack David. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. New York, 1988.

Hilda R. Ellis Davidson (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Grimm Brothers

views updated Jun 08 2018

Brothers Grimm

Jakob Grimm

Born: January 4, 1785
Hanau, Germany
Died: September 20, 1863
Berlin, Germany

German scholar and author

Wilhelm Grimm

Born: February 24, 1786
Hanau, Germany
Died: December 16, 1859
Berlin, Germany

German scholar and author

The brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were German scholars known for their fairy tales and for their work in the study of different languages, which included the creation of "Grimm's law."

Together from the beginning

Jakob Karl Grimm was born on January 4, 1785, in Hanau, Germany. His brother, Wilhelm Karl Grimm, was born on February 24 of the following year. They were the oldest surviving sons of Philipp Grimm, a lawyer who served as Hanau's town clerk. As small children they spent most of their time together; aside from a brief period of living apart, they were to remain together for the rest of their lives. Their even-tempered personalities made it easy for them to work together on projects. The main difference in their personalities seems to have been that Jakob, the healthier of the two, had more taste for research work, and it was he who worked out most of their theories of language and grammar. Wilhelm was physically weaker but was a somewhat warmer person and more interested in music and literature. He was responsible for the pleasant style of their collection of fairy tales.

The brothers first attended school in Kassel, Germany, and then they began legal studies at the University of Marburg. While there, however, the inspiration of a professor named Friedrich von Savigny awakened in them an interest in past cultures. In 1808 Jakob was named court librarian to the King of Westphalia in Wilhelmshöhe, Germany. In 1816 he became librarian in Kassel, where Wilhelm had been employed since 1814. They were to remain there until 1830, when they obtained positions at the University of Göttingen.

"Grimm's Fairy Tales"

The romantic movement in Germany (a movement in the arts that favored a return to nature and a greater focus on national culture, especially folk tales) awakened the Germans' interest in the past of their own country. Although some work in the rediscovery and editing of medieval (from the Middle Ages, 5001500) German literature had already been started in the eighteenth century, it was the poets and theorists of the next century who first focused national attention on the origins of German culture and literature. While most of the poets viewed medieval literature mainly as an inspiration for new writing, others turned their attention to the investigation of the past. The Grimm brothers were the most important of these early language and folklore romantic historians.

For some years the brothers had been in contact with the romantic poets Clemens Brentano (17781842) and Achim von Arnim (17811831), who were preparing a collection of German folk songs. Following their own interests in folklore and legends, the brothers brought out their first collection of tales, Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Tales of Children and the Home), in 1812. These tales were collected by recording stories told by peasants and villagers. Wilhelm put them into written form and gave them a pleasant, childlike style. The brothers added many scholarly footnotes on the tales' sources and different versions.

In addition, the Grimms worked on editing existing pieces of other folklore and early literature. Between 1816 and 1818 they published two volumes of Deutsche Sagen (German Legends). At about the same time they published a volume of studies in the history of early literature, Altdeutsche Wälder (Old German Forests).

Language research

In later years their interest in older literature led the Grimm brothers to a study of older languages and their relationship to modern German. Jakob especially began to specialize in the history and structure of the German language. The first edition of his Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar) was published in 1819.

The brothers, especially Jakob, were also working to document the relationship between similar words of related languages, such as the English apple and the German Apfel. Their creation of the rules for such relationships became known as "Grimm's law." It was later expanded to account for all word relationships in the Indo-European group of languages. The Grimm brothers were not the first to take note of such similarities, but they can be credited with gathering the bulk of linguistic (related to language) data and working out the details of the rules.

Later years

In 1830 the brothers moved to the University of Göttingen, where Jakob was named professor and head librarian and Wilhelm was appointed assistant librarian. As professor, Jakob held lectures on linguistics and cultural history. Wilhelm also attained the rank of professor in 1835. Both were dismissed in 1835 for political reasons. (They had joined in signing a protest against the King's decision to abolish the Hanover constitution.) They first moved back to Kassel but later obtained professorships at Berlin, Germany, where they were to remain until their deaths.

The Grimm brothers' last years were spent in preparing a complete dictionary of the German language, tracing the origin of every word. The first volume, published in 1854, has 1,824 pages but gets only as far as the word Biermolke. Four pages are devoted to the letter A alone, which is termed "the most noble and primeval [ancient] of all sounds." The Grimms' dictionary was carried on by generations of scholars after the brothers' deaths, and it was finally finished in 1960. Its completed form consists of sixteen large volumes.

Wilhelm died in Berlin on December 16, 1859. Jakob continued to work on the dictionary and related projects until his death in Berlin on September 20, 1863.

For More Information

Peppard, Murray B. Paths through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.

Zipes, Jack David. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.


views updated May 18 2018

Grimm surname of two brothers, Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm, German philologists and folklorists. In 1852 the brothers jointly inaugurated a dictionary of German on historical principles, which was eventually completed by other scholars in 1960. They also compiled an anthology of German fairy stories, based on oral folk tales, which appeared in three volumes between 1812 and 1822, and their name may be used allusively in this context to indicate a somewhat sinister atmosphere of magic and danger.
Grimm's law the observation that certain Indo-European consonants (mainly stops) undergo regular changes in the Germanic languages which are not seen in others such as Greek or Latin. Examples include p becoming f so that Latin pedem corresponds to English foot and German Fuss. The principle was set out by Jacob Grimm in his German grammar (2nd edition, 1822).

Grimm brothers

views updated May 11 2018

Grimm brothers German philologists and folklorists. Jakob Ludwig Karl (1785–1863) formulated Grimm's law relating to the regular shifting of consonants in Indo-European languages. He and his brother Wilhelm Karl (1786–1859) are popularly known for their collection of folk tales, Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812–15). It was a major text of Romanticism.

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Grimm Brothers

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