“Es war einmal”: the revitalization of nineteenth-century German women writers’ fairy tales
I'm a third-year Oxford student of English and German, and for the first half of my year abroad, I moved to the beautiful Bavarian city of Munich. Translation has always been a passion of mine; in my second year at Oxford I was part of the group of students who translated the Nazi resistance group the White Rose’s political pamphlets, which were then published alongside some essays in The White Rose: Reading, Writing, Resistance (2019). You can find the book on Amazon, Blackwell’s, Foyles, etc. I also won the runner’s up prize for German in the Warwick Prize in Undergraduate Translation.
Looking for something to fill the cold German winter nights (other than Glühwein), I decided to translate some fairy tales. But the Brothers Grimm, as great as they are, have received enough attention, I think anyway. So I created a blog dedicated to fairy tales written by some far less well-known women writers.
Es war einmal… Once upon a time, over four hundred women published fairy tales in the nineteenth century in Germany alone, yet now we think of the fairy tale as a male-dominated genre, led by Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen and other men.
My project aims to recover and revitalize the lost voices of the many German women writing fairy tales in the nineteenth century, who used the genre as a subversive vehicle for critique of patriarchal values and conventions, such as the importance of marriage and the denial of education to women. I aim to recover these women’s voices by translating five previously untranslated fairy tales and circulating my translations via a blog.
These tales (collected in the original German by Shawn Jarvis in the anthology Im Reich der Wünsche  but not yet translated into English) are: Friederike Helene Unger’s “Prinzessin Gräcula: Ein Märchen” (1804); Charlotte von Ahlefeld’s “Die Nymphe des Reins” (1812); Louise Brachmann’s “Das Reich der Wünsche. Märchen” (1813); Karoline Stahl’s “ ‘Der verzauberte Prinz. Nach einer lettischen Volkssage” (1816); and Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s “Brautwahl” (1892).
I am greatly indebted to Professor Shawn Jarvis, who spent the best part of twenty years creating these two anthologies of fairy tales to bring greater attention to women writers. She has kindly allowed me to take on this project which I hope is inspired by similar motives to her own.
I hope my project will help these German women writers get the critical attention they deserve. For more recommended books to read around this topic, do follow this link: https://germanshowcase.mml.ox.ac.uk/2020/06/06/feminist-fairy-tales/
In order to help finance this project, I applied for a LIDL year abroad grant, and was lucky enough to receive it. You can find the details of the other worthy grant winners at this link: https://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/news/2020/06/04/2019-20-lidl-year-abroad-winners-projects-revealed.
The money from LIDL has also allowed me to expand the original aims of my project. Rather than just publishing the translations on my blog, I am in the process of self-publishing them into an illustrated book, with a foreword from the Oxford academic Joanna Neilly, and an introduction by myself. As a result, you will only find three of the translations online, plus a translation by two Reading students, but for a taste of these wonderful German women’s writing, you’ll find my blog here: https://feministfairytalesingermany.blogspot.com/
I shall leave you with Jarvis’ words that so piqued my interest in this field:
“Es sind keine schweigsamen, anpassungs- und aufopferungsbereiten Märchenheldinnen und -autorinnen mehr, mit denen wir es hier zu tun haben. Sie ergreifen das Wort und wollen gehört werden. Hören wir ihnen zu.”
Shawn Jarvis, ‘Nachwort’, Im Reich der Wünsche, p. 332
In English, this quote goes something like this:
"It's no longer silent, compliant and self-sacrificing fairy tale heroines that we're dealing with here. They speak up and want to be heard. So let's listen to them."