Fairy Tales: A New History
Ruth B. Bottigheimer
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Overturns traditional views of the origins of fairy tales and documents their actual origins and transmission.
Where did Cinderella come from? Puss in Boots? Rapunzel? The origins of fairy tales are looked at in a new way in these highly engaging pages. Conventional wisdom holds that fairy tales originated in the oral traditions of peasants and were recorded for posterity by the Brothers Grimm during the nineteenth century. Ruth B. Bottigheimer overturns this view in a lively account of the origins of these well-loved stories. Charles Perrault created Cinderella and her fairy godmother, but no countrywoman whispered this tale into Perrault’s ear. Instead, his Cinderella appeared only after he had edited it from the book of often amoral tales published by Giambattista Basile in Naples. Distinguishing fairy tales from folktales and showing the influence of the medieval romance on them, Bottigheimer documents how fairy tales originated as urban writing for urban readers and listeners. Working backward from the Grimms to the earliest known sixteenth-century fairy tales of the Italian Renaissance, Bottigheimer argues for a book-based history of fairy tales. The first new approach to fairy tale history in decades, this book answers questions about where fairy tales came from and how they spread, illuminating a narrative process long veiled by surmise and assumption.
“Bottingheimer’s work is as always provocative and interesting.” — Journal of American Folklore
“The genius of this slender volume is not so much that it provides a totally ‘new history,’ but rather that it presents not only Bottigheimer’s research but also that of John Ellis, Heinz Rölleke, Nancy Canepa, and many others in cogent, persuasive, eminently readable prose … A fascinating study in intertextuality, this book includes a helpful list of the 77 tales discussed, categorized by the author.” — CHOICE
“Some scholars say that, whether or not one agrees with all of Bottigheimer’s conclusions, her work is a useful questioning of popularly held beliefs.” — Chronicle Review
“This book will forever change the way that scholars and readers view a genre—the literary fairy tale—that remains vital today.” — Suzanne Magnanini, author of Fairy-Tale Science: Monstrous Generation in the Tales of Straparola and Basile
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Beard”), “Sleeping Beauty,” “King Thrushbeard,” “Snow White,” and “The Carnation.”3 Friederike Mannel (1783–1833), a pastor’s daughter in nearby Allendorf who provided five tales in 1808–1809, was another early contributor to their first volume, as were the Ramus sisters Julia (1792–1862) and Charlotte (1793–1858).4 The Ramus sisters’ real significance, however, was that they introduced the Grimms to Dorothea Viehmann (1755–1815), the most important informant for the second volume of the Nursery
said, would persuade any skeptic that oral transmission could channel a narrative unchanged from one era to another, because she, Frau Viehmann, never changed a word in her tellings, and if she made a mistake, she corrected it the next time around.26 From Wilhelm’s observations of Frau Viehmann’s storytelling ability and style, it was but a short step to a far-reaching generalization about a central difference between the folk and educated people like him, his brother, and their Cassel friends.
to equate them with one another. For Wilhelm the sleeping princess of “Briar Rose” had once been the slumbering Brunhilde. Similarly, the white-skinned and black-haired Snow White was simply the medieval Snäfridr, and Snow White’s coffin the same one by which a medieval Haraldur had sat for three long years.29 In this way, the fairy tales that Jacob and Wilhelm were collecting became evidence for the existence of Volks=Märchen long believed to have been lost, in a period long before they had been
Hennig and Lauer, 545–546. Rölleke in Grimm (1980) 3: 560, 563–565. Quoted by Seitz, Die Brüder Grimm: Leben (1984) 70. Rölleke in Grimm (1980) 3:566; Hettinga, The Brothers Grimm (2001) 72. It is easy to validate this statement by examining the listings of informants and the tales they provided. Rölleke has made this readily accessible in “Beiträger und Vermittler der Märchen” in Grimm (1980) 3:559–574. My translation, “Vorrede” in (1812) Kinder- und Hausmärchen 1: v–xxi, here, 1:v, from Rölleke