Grimms` Bad Girls and Bold Boys


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The Moral and Social Vision of the Tales

Ruth B. Bottigheimer

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The fairy tale collection of the brothers Grimm has been a central document in German social and literary history for generations, mined for various purposes by scholars of many persuasions.  This book, the first in more than fifty years to examine the entire body of tales, provides a thorough content analysis, focusing in particular on the use of gender in the stories.


Ruth B. Bottigheimer’s close analysis of several major editions of Grimms’ Tales reveals coherent patterns of motif, plot, and image and also affords insight into the moral and social vision of the collection.  Bottigheimer discusses, for example, the relationship between transgression and punishment, noting that gender distinctions rather than the severity of the sin determined the consequences of transgressing prohibitions.  She finds that in the course of the Tales’ editorial history, speech was systematically taken away from women and given to men.  She shows how common elements unite images and themes as disparate as abandonment in the forest, subliminal eroticism, violence, and Christianity in the Tales.  And she treats their social and ethical bases, analyzing such aspects of the plots as the workings of the judicial process and the relation of anti-Semitism to the economics of work and money.


According to Bottigheimer, Freudians praise fairy tales as contributing to children’s moral education; although Jungians recognize the gender distinctions inherent in the tales, they treat the collection ahistorically, ignoring its nineteenth-century German origins.  By combining a sociohistorical analysis of these stories with close scrutiny of the language in which they are told, Bottigheimer radically alters the uses to which Grimms’ Tales can be put in the future by historians, psychologists, feminists, and educators. 

Ruth B. Bottigheimer is adjunct professor of Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University.

"It would be a stony-hearted troll who could not find stimulus from this. . . provocative and penetrating study by one of the liveliest of current scholars of the Grimms' Tales."—Andrew Wawn, Times Literary Supplement 

"Bottigheimer surveys Grimms' Tales with a. . .feminist eye. She analyzes their elements with a view to defining their moral and social vision, and examines the successive editions to show how the tales were 'gender-skewed' to fit prevalent notions of male and female roles and characters."—Janet Adam Smith, New York Review of Books

"The intelligence and sanity of [Bottigheimer's] investigation and the thorough command of her subject that supports it are exemplary."—Choice

"A new level of thoroughness and precision in American scholarship about the Grimms' fairy tales." -- J.D. Stahl, Children's Literature, 17

"Makes for very enjoyable reading."—Josef Schmidt, International Fiction Review

"Bottigheimer's fresh interpretation is a needed addition to intuitive research on the Brothers Grimm. . . . Her book is an essential addition to the serious scholar's library."—Paul Kiska, Rocky Mountain Review

"[Bottigheimer's book] is of particular value to scholars of the folk and fairy tale. Its premise, tabulations, and intriguing observations do represent a contribution to the field of folk tale studies."—Joyce Thomas, Children's Literature in Education

"In an unusual praiseworthy blend of cultural contextualizing and close verbal analysis, Bottigheimer makes her case for the tension between 'the surface presentation of many subjects,' women central among them, and 'the language, associations, and imagery with which they are communicated , which suggests a deep ambivalence about these subjects.'"—Mary Harris Veeder, History of Education Quarterly
ISBN: 9780300043891
Publication Date: September 10, 1989
The Bible for Children

From the Age of Gutenberg to the Present

Ruth B. Bottigheimer

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