Dorothea Viehmann

Etching: Dorothea Viehmann
Dorothea Viehmann as a teller of fairytales, title page draft of Grimms Märchen by Emil Grimm, etching, pre-1837
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Dorothea Viehmann

The fairytale woman

She steadfastly enshrines these old tales in her memory, (...) telling stories thoughtfully, assuredly and with tremendous zest, taking great personal delight in doing so…

Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm in the foreword to the second volume of their work Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1815

The second volume of the Brothers Grimm work Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) was published in 1815 with a foreword that included a tribute to the storytelling of a poor woman from Hesse. Dorothea Viehmann contributed over 40 stories to the most famous collection of fairytales in existence. The idea that she was a poor woman with a humble background has since been debunked as a marketing strategy by the Brothers Grimm.

The educated, cosmopolitan inn keeper’s daughter had Huguenot roots and was able to write and speak French. As the so-called “fairytale woman” with an exceptional memory, she is considered to have enriched German fairytale culture with the influence of French storytelling tradition. Classic children’s stories such as Die Gänsemagd (The Goose Girl), Der arme Müllersbursch (The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Cat) and Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren (The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs) all originate from Dorothea Viehmann.