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Clever Maidens: a Book Review

Updated on May 11, 2020
rebelogilbert profile image

Gilbert received a bachelors of arts at the University of California, Fullerton, in English and Theater. He writes creative stories.

Dorothea Viehmann's Kassel-Niederzwehren Home

Viehmann's residence 1787 and 1798
Viehmann's residence 1787 and 1798 | Source

Viehmann Contributed Forty Fairy Tales to Brothers Grimm

Artist: Ludwig Emil Grimm
Artist: Ludwig Emil Grimm | Source

Brothers Grimm Transcribe Educated Women

The Grimm Brothers interviewed and collected tales from aristocratic educated women and peasants for one major literary contribution. They didn't create the fairy tale content published in many editions of Children's and Household Fairy Tales (1812-1857). Scholars accredit fairy tale origin as oral stories shared among people from generation to generation. Clever Maidens, a book written by Valerie Paradiz, may surprise fairy-tale lovers; The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, collected fairy tales near home and various regions. Females narrated numerous personal story variations passed down even before medieval times. Tales circulated among Hessian peasantry, family servants, and working community villagers.

Lotte Grimm, the brothers’ sister, encouraged a social circle of women sharing oral tales while sipping tea, making clothes, and mending them with needle and thread.

Educated ladies offered over fifty-percent of 210 fairy tales published in two volumes. Their tales had been transcribed during the Golden Age of Collection, 1807-1815.

  • The Wild Sisters
  • Von Droste-Hülshoff Sisters
  • Von Haxhausen
  • The Hassenpflug
  • Dorothea Viehmann

The Brothers Grimm: Fairy-Tale Collectors

1855 painting by Elizabeth Jerichau Baumann
1855 painting by Elizabeth Jerichau Baumann | Source

The Wild Sisters: Brother Grimm's First Sister Collaborators

Jacob and Wilhelm’s story collecting collaboration began with the Wild Sisters. Their tales often expressed a girl’s personal suffering. 1807-1808, the sisters contributed 30 published fairy tale stories. Lisette, a frequent orator of tales, and her sisters, once attended a ball given by Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother.

Gretchen Wild, a 19-year-old, offered the first known transcription, 1807. Wilhelm transcribed her story narration, Child of Mary. Virgin Mary takes a child to heaven, but forbids her entry into the 13th room. The child denies encountering the Holy Trinity, but can’t hide gold coloring on her hand. Mary banishes her from heaven, and sends her back to earth. A merciful king marries the banished girl. Virgin Mary abducts their three newborn babies; the new queen persistently denies her entry into the 13th door. Villains accuse the queen of killing and eating her babies. She repents before burning to death at the stake, and receives Mary's forgiveness.

Lotte Grimm, an only sister raised with numerous brothers, resembles the female protagonist in The Six Swans, contributed by Dortchen Wild. The plot pattern contains aspects of Child of Mary, but irreligious in nature, and retains spiritual supernatural elements. Lotte felt alienated after her mother passed away. She resented her brothers for treating her like a servant of the household, and wanted to leave them.

The Wild Sisters visited an apothecary and Jacob thought it a disgusting habit.

Dortchen Wild narrated well-known fairy-tales like Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin. The Singing Bone reveals how “brotherly strife leads to irreparable damage in the family.”

Marie Hassenpflug: Credited Twenty Grimm Fairy Tales

Circa 1812
Circa 1812 | Source

The Hassenpflug Sisters; French Huguenots

The Hassenpflug family, Huguenots, German inhabitants, practiced French tradition from their native land until abandoning it in the late seventeenth century, Louis the XIV instated a horrible Anti-Protestant proclamation.

Autumn, 1809, the Hassenpflug sisters, Suzette, Jeanette, Maria, and Amalia, shared new stories to Wilhelm. Grimm family reading circle orators included young middle-class and well educated girls of Kassel. Jeanette presented a dramatic narration of Puss in Boots.

On the Despicable Spinning on Flax, a king prefers his daughters occupy their’ time with hard labor; they spin flax, but he realizes excessive work takes a toll on feminine beauty.

Amalia loved telling scary ghost stories, The Strange Feast and The Godfather.

Maria suffered from a seizure and lost power of her limbs. Wilhelm sympathized with her; he suffered from heart ailments. Maria’s output defied her crippled condition; she included twenty stories to the Grimm' collection, great examples, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and The Maiden with no Hands.

Red Riding Hood, transcribed in 1812, originally achieved publication in two parts, two different versions, and strengthened the Grimm Brothers popularity. Modern editions favored the second version and “read like teachings on how to avoid being raped.” Brave independent women defend themselves.

Dortchen Wild and Jeanette Hassenpflug dramatized The Magic Table, the Golden Donkey, and the Club in the Sack; two oral versions were recorded about a story considered, Schwank Märchen. A male protagonist becomes involved with comical incidents.

“a popular fairy tale in Europe during the Napoleonic wars because it lent itself so well to political metaphors of power, greed, and most important, the hope for triumph harbored by many a poor commoner.”

— Valerie Paradiz

Red Riding Hood: Illustration, Jessie Willcox Smith, 1911 (1863-1935)

The evil wolf popular in  " Little Red Riding Hood," reminded German children of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The evil wolf popular in " Little Red Riding Hood," reminded German children of Napoleon Bonaparte. | Source

Educated Von Haxhausen Sisters

Wilhelm established contact with Werner von Haxhausen, a scholar of Greek folk songs, in Halle, while under Dr. Reil's care. Wilhelm visited

Bökerhof, Werner's German estate, in 1811, and discovered aristocratic story weaving sisters, near Brakel, a small town.

Anna, Sophie, Ludowine, and Ferdinandine dramatized The Maiden of Brakel, and used a dialect spoken in a region around Paderborn.

“it was these women of high education, privilege, and erudition in folkloric scholarship who could deliver with fidelity narratives of the simple life of commoners that the brothers had so passionately sought to publish.”

— Valerie Paradiz

The Bremen Town Musicians includes a tale about an unhappy donkey, dog, cat, and rooster; they leave their cruel owners and steal a robber’s den for their new home.

The Devil Greencoat (later edition – Bearskin)

The youngest of three brothers’ benefits from wearing the devil green coat, he upholds stronger moral values, defeats the devil, and gains freedom and wealth. The Grimm Brothers revised and altered a later edition. A useless heroic soldier returns from war.

Author: The Worn Out Dancing Shoes


Princess Jenny Von Drostle Hülshoff

Wilhelm edited volume II, of Children and Household Fairy Tales, and returned to the von Haxthausen Sisters. Jenny and Annette, offered him additional stories. Jenny von Drostle Hülshoff contributed The Worn out Dancing Shoes (The Three Dancing Princesses). A wondrous arbor description reminded Wilhelm about a path of arching trees at Bökerhof, he remembered Anna von Haxhausen’s first story, and enjoyed walking with Jenny. The tale describes tree leaves made of sparkling silver, gold, and diamonds. The spy earns the king’s confidence and his eldest daughter; he brings back three different branches. The von Haxhausen sisters resemble the twelves princesses dancers in the tale, aristocrats, empowered, unlike common girls Wilhelm associated with at home.

The Three Dancing Princesses: Audio Narration

Dorothea Viehmann's Productive Output

Dorothea Viehmann, an old woman, from Zwern, contributed 40 oral tales. Her version of Cinderella resembles two other 18th century versions written by Charles Perrault, and Madame d’Alonoy. The Grimm Brothers suspected she picked-up stories from village workers, and her mother. Viehmann drank coffee, wine, and received a silver spoon, and money from them.

“The motif of the glass slipper, used as a means of divining the identity of the prince’s true love, dates even further back and appears in Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone, a collection of Neopolitan folk tales published in 1637.” Valerie Paradiz

Doctor Know It All, a story type called Schwank Märchen, a comedy, features a simpleton male. Unexpected good behavior rewards him fame and fortune. Story outcome defies social rank, class, wealth, and education. She loved themes about distortion of identity. “Masking one’s persona can be exceedingly profitable.”

The Goose Maid, begins with a mother applying three drops of her blood on white cambric. She gives it to her daughter. The blood stained fabric works like a protective charm for the future princess. “Falling victim to another’s devious attempts at obscuring one’s identity can be exceedingly damaging.” The princess's maid pretends to act like her but eventually suffers punishment.

The Three Army Surgeons covers a war theme, experiments with horrifying amputations, and exemplifies burlesque commentary. A common field soldier risks losing personal body parts. Odds favor a high social class army surgeon's survival. European organ transplants revolutionized experimental medicine. Black markets obtained corpses from grave diggers during war.

The Grimm Brothers down played Viehmann’s intelligence. Huguenot heritage defined her as a French speaking woman, but they labeled her “quintessentially Hessian,” quoted from a forward, volume II, Children and Household Fairy Tales. Napoleon’s demise set-off prideful patriotic celebrations. Jacob and Wilhelm reshaped Viehmann’s image to reflect native ideals of their homeland. Ludwig Grimm visited Kassel, and drew her portrait; it was printed in an 1819 edition of the Grimm collection.

Marburg and Kassel: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm/ Discovering Germany

Cinderella Illustration: Alexander Zick (1845-1907)

Cinderella, first version, Volume 1, 1812, transcribed from a legendary tale, Lady of Marburg. Lotte Grimm's transcription disatisfied Wilhelm. He combined Viehmann’s version with the Marburg version.
Cinderella, first version, Volume 1, 1812, transcribed from a legendary tale, Lady of Marburg. Lotte Grimm's transcription disatisfied Wilhelm. He combined Viehmann’s version with the Marburg version. | Source

Lady Authors Struggled for Personal Recognition

Clever Maidens discloses essential revelation about educated ladies contributing fairy-tales to the Brothers Grimm. Common women had also shared tales with them. Transcription of women’s oral tales gained popularity during the early 1800's. Charles Perrault, wrote a popular version of Cinderella, and also heard women orate tales. Jacob and Wilhelm, credited women authors’ regional areas, but didn’t print their personal names.

Later, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff became a popular German nineteenth century author. Her novella, The Birch of the Jew, achieved publication and attention.

Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, achieved anonymous publication, January 1818, at a small London publishing house. Later, she received name recognition, “ Shelley,” for a second edition publication,

Corréard, Paris, 1821. G and W.B. Whittaker, published the novel in two volumes, an English edition, Frankenstein, August 11, 1823, and increased her popularity. Mary Shelley’s accreditation as original creator, occurred after the Grimm Brothers had published many editions of Children and Household Fairy Tales.

The Three Army Surgeons: Illustrator, Arthur Rackham 1917 (1867-1939)

The Brother Grimm collected fairy tales during Napoleon Bonaparte's reign
The Brother Grimm collected fairy tales during Napoleon Bonaparte's reign | Source

Favorite Fairy-Tale

What Grimm fairy tale do you like best?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • rebelogilbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      5 weeks ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Thanks for reading my article, Tolovaj. I was amazed when I read the book, too. The Grimm Brothers were like Walt Disney of their times. Entertainment depended so much on literature and creative stories.

    • Tolovaj profile image


      6 weeks ago

      Thanks for the heads up! I need to read this book ASAP. You are right, it's common error believing Grimms traveled around and collect the fairy tales. Almost all material presented in their book was published before they were even born and their real contribution was to put the tales in a context of the time. That's why the Grimms' Fairy tales are so important.

    • rebelogilbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      2 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      I'm glad you liked it, JC. "Clever Maidens" provides an interesting read, and discusses more interesting stories and background than I was able to cover.

    • JC Scull profile image

      JC Scull 

      3 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Very good hub.

    • rebelogilbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      3 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Thanks for reading my hub, Kumar. If you get a chance to read Valerie's book, you'll learn much more about the subject. She touched on issues I couldn't cover because of word count and her vast material.

    • Kumar Paral profile image

      Kumar Paral 

      3 months ago from India

      Very informative. Thanks for sharing.


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