Original Research

Reluctant Romantics – On the fairy tale poetics of the Brothers Grimm and their relationship to German Romanticism

Isabel dos Santos
Literator | Vol 35, No 1 | a1073 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v35i1.1073 | © 2014 Isabel dos Santos | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 August 2013 | Published: 03 December 2014

About the author(s)

Isabel dos Santos, Department of Modern Foreign Languages, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


The legacy of the Brothers Grimm continues to fascinate readers and researchers alike. The 200-year anniversary of the first publication of their fairy tales sparked a renewed interest in the life, work and times of the brothers. Fascinated by the past, by the political present and by the literary future of Romanticism, the Brothers Grimm stayed together in an unusual working union. They established what was to become German philology and published many invaluable works on language and history, myths and folk tales. This article will focus on the brothers’ place in German Romanticism through their contribution of fairy tales. The period was marked by political and philosophical thought that emphasised authentic experienced and the spiritual unity of art, science and philosophy. There was a strong call for national emancipation. Literature was required to embody this unity through an established national literature founded on German folk traditions. The Grimms seemed to have heeded that call. But a careful study reveals that their intentions were motivated less by the literary movement than by their own strong convictions which they upheld even at the cost of compromising the authenticity they claimed to uphold in their poetics. The many controversies regarding the origins, collection and editing of the fairy tales is inextricably linked to the brothers’ difficult relationship with the Romantic Movement. Two hundred years later, this article seeks to give an appraisal of the Brothers’ motivation for their poetics and of the research conducted thus far.


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