The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth - A Review!

One of the great untold love stories - how the Grimm brothers discovered their famous fairy tales - filled with drama and passion, and taking place during the Napoleonic Wars.Growing up next door to the Grimm brothers in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom, Dortchen Wild told Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in the famous fairy tale collection. Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector's mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm and the two became best friends.In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairy tales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen's father was cruel and autocratic, and he beat and abused her. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry - the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day. After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairy tale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm's elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.

UK Hardcover and Australia available for purchase now. Not for sale in U.S. yet except for the kindle download. As always Book Depository ships to the U.S. 

I was not one of those little girls who fell in love with fairy tales as a child. I did not read them although, some were read to me. The only fairy tale I have a clear memory of really loving as a very small child was Sleeping Beauty. I remember asking my grandmother to read it to me all the time which she did. I loved it partly because everyone slept in the castle which made me burst into fits of giggles and because I had the same white nightgown as sleeping beauty wore in the story!  I swear I did!
Heroic Songs, Ballads, and Tales, translated by Wilhelm Carl Grimm, Heidelberg, 1811
The first volume appeared in 1816 and the second volume in 1818.

Kate Forsyth is an Australian author of thirty books mostly children's books, some poetry books, and books for adults as well. The Wild Girl is the first of her books I've read. I will follow it up with another fairy tale themed novel of hers, 'Bitter Greens.'  I chose The Wild Girl because I loved the idea of not simply a re-telling of fairy tales marketed to sell to adults but the fact that the author researched The Grimm Brothers including every aspect of their lives.  The Wild Girl explores how these two young brothers Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm lived in poverty with their parents and siblings in Hesse-Cassell in Germany during the 18th and 19th centuries. The incorporation of the political climate in 18th Century France including the invasion of Napoleon of the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1806 made the Grimm Brothers lives more palpable. Suddenly, you weren't just reading silly fairy tales for the romanticism and escapism of the stories but you were engrossed in the actual socio-economic climate of Germany. I greatly admire how Kate Forsyth made medieval Germany interesting as aspects of war were juxtaposed against the writing down of German myth and folklore by peasants who didn't want to be published or have their names in a fancy book but wanted to write down their histories for future generations.  I was engrossed in the nuances of the writing style, the Germanic themed dialogues were not only authentic in verbage and history but realistically presented in a gripping fashion. 

Engraving of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild

There is the love story between young Wilhelm Grimm and the Grimm family next door neighbor Dortchen Wild of the Wild family consisting of five other sisters and both parents. They are as poor as the Grimm's but both families seem to live near each other in harmony except for the glowering , strict and angry father of the Wild family who keeps Dortchen very close to home always.  Kate Forsyth did her research into both families and discovered the give and take father/daughter relationship making the romance take a lot longer than you would imagine.

The WIld Girl covers the years (1805-1824) broken down into seven parts chronologically, monthly, and yearly.  There is a very telling Forward and Epilogue as well which again highlights the research Kate Forsyth has done.  Some favorite well-known and loved fairy tales are told here explained by a fantastic 'old hag' woman character named, 'Old Marie.' You will recognize aspects of 'Rapunzel', 'Little Snow White' who does not originally wake up by the kiss of a prince, Sleeping Beauty as it connects to Briar Rose and even Hansel and Gretel amongst so much more!

 The Grimm Brothers

I would highly recommend The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth to anyone who wants an engrossing and enchanting read of some fairy tales of which you may not already know!


Laura Morrigan said…
It sounds fascinating! I remember seeing a movie about the Brothers Grimm as a kid, but I can't really remember much now, except a bit where he is lying in bed near death and his characters come to him. I am not sure if it was historically accurate. I also love that the girl he loved was named Wild. Wild and Grimm, what wonderful dark fairytale names!
Kimberly Eve said…
The only movie I saw about them was that terrible one with Mat Damon! I wouldn't be surprised if characters came to many authors on their death beds! Wild and Grimm sounds like they were complete opposites ;) Thanks for commenting.