Sisters Hassenpflug told these Grimm fairy tales

Dhe perhaps the most exciting question in Brothers Grimm research leads to the contributors to their fairy tales. When the first volume of their “Children’s and Household Tales” appeared in 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were young scholars who were known or friends with important representatives of Romanticism. In the famous “Kränzchen” (Kränzchen), the Brothers Grimm in Kassel met mostly young women who were interested in modern literature. Among them were three of the four sisters of the Hanau Hassenpflug family: Marie, Jeanette and Amalie, called Malchen.

Especially through the work of Heinz Rölleke we know that around thirty fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm come from these sisters. Twenty by Marie, the eldest born in 1788, including “Sleeping Beauty”, “Little Brother and Sister” and the little puzzle “The Golden Key”, with which all editions of the fairy tale collection have ended since 1815. Marie Madelaine Hassenpflug, the mother of the sisters, came from a Huguenot family from the Dauphiné. Her grandfather had come to Hanau after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes as a religious refugee, where he married the Huguenot Madeleine Debély for the second time.

Marie Madelaine lost her mother at the age of four and a half. That is why she grew up with her grandmother in Hanauer Neustadt, which was built from 1597 for Walloon and Dutch religious refugees. When Marie Madelaine’s father died in 1778, she became an orphan at the age of eleven. Ten years later she married Johannes Hassenpflug, the head of the Altenhaßlau office near Gelnhausen. The Reformed faith united them, but they lived in two different cultures.

A harsh patroness as a grandmother

In the house of Marie Madelaine Hassenpflug’s grandmother, French was spoken, on principle and with great severity by the grandmother, who acted as the harsh patroness. Johannes Hassenpflug’s family, on the other hand, came from the County of Hanau for several generations. After the marriage, Johannes Hassenpflug became mayor of Hanau Neustadt in 1789. He didn’t speak French. The family lived on the market square in Neustadt, opposite the town hall, the official seat of the mayor. Besides Marie Hassenpflug, her sisters Suzette and Jeanette and her brother Ludwig lived there until they moved to Kassel, where Marie’s youngest sister Amalie was born.

It is well known that many of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, contrary to what was initially suggested, were not told by “real Hessian” peasant women, but by contributors such as Dorothea Viehmann, who had Huguenot ancestors. Nothing could be more obvious than to attribute Marie Hassenpflug and her sisters to the source that could draw from a French reservoir: their mother’s strict grandmother. This is exactly what happened. During the work on a forthcoming literary history of the city of Hanau, however, considerable doubts arose about the great-grandmother’s source – in relation to the Hassenpflug sisters. Rather, in Marie Madelaine Hassenpflug, a very interesting, educated woman emerged who loved no book more than Heinrich Jung-Stilling’s memoirs.


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