Biography of Brothers Grimm

Wilhelm Grimm was born on February 24, 1786, in Hanau, Germany. He and older brother Jacob studied German folklore and oral traditions, publishing a collection of stories eventually known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales which includes narratives like Briar Rose and Little Red Riding Hood. Wilhelm oversaw editorial work on future editions of the collection, which became more geared towards children.

Influenced by German Romanticism, a prevailing movement of the time, the brothers robustly studied the folklore of their region, with an emphasis on recording village oral storytelling that was vanishing with the advent of new technology. Jacob's and Wilhelm's work culminated in the book Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the first volume of which was published in 1812. A second volume followed in 1815. The collection would later come to be known as Grimms' Fairy Tales, with famous stories that include Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, The Golden Goose, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella.

Despite the emphasis on village oral traditions, the stories were in fact an amalgamation of oral and previously printed fairy tales, as well as information shared by friends, family members and acquaintances, with non-German influences. For instance, French writer Charles Perrault had earlier written a version of The Sleeping Beauty, known as Briar Rose in the Grimm collection.

The brothers aimed to make the collection more palatable to children by its second edition, and hence made note that they had altered and expanded the language of the stories. Wilhelm, seen as the more easygoing of the two with a passion for the arts, served as editor on future editions of Tales.

While the brothers are most famous for their collection of what we now know as the "Grimm Fairytales," they were occupied in various other positions including the study of law, historical scholarship in Old German literature and culture, and philology. These pursuits, in their own ways, were to exert an influence on the collections and publication of the fairytales.

One of the most telling influences was perhaps the brothers' strong faith in and love for their homeland; letters written by both Wilhelm and Jacob express their sense of German nationalism which indeed inspired the fairytales collection itself. The collection was seen as an attempt to preserve the  more natural forms of early German literature (specifically the oral tradition of folklores), and show how influential it was to the development of literate, or written, culture. Underlying this scholarship was the brothers' hope that a preservation of such features of German history and culture would enable a return to an older, purer German tradition and values, qualities that the brothers believed were lacking in their surroundings.

Study Guides on Works by Brothers Grimm