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The French Sisters Who Informed the Grimm Brothers

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are famous for putting into writing tales from the oral tradition, which were often told to them by women. Marie Hassenpflug and her sisters Jeanette and Amalie were the informants for some of the Grimms' most famous tales, including “Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” The Hassenpflugs were family friends and lived in Hanau, Germany, the town where the Grimms were born. Later, the Hassenpflugs also lived in Kassel, where the Grimms did their most important work with folk and fairy tales.

The Brothers Grimm sought to preserve and celebrate the German spirit, but some of the stories the Sisters Hassenpflug supplied them were from France. The Hassenpglug family were French Hugenot immigrants to Germany, and probably brought with them Charles Perrault’s fairy tales which were published a century before the Brothers Grimm’s project. Interestingly, Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” is the first to mention the color of Little Red’s hood—she doesn’t have a red hood in a version of the tale called “The Story of Grandmother” that predates Perrault. Thus, it could be that the Grimms gave Perrault’s costume to their Little Red. However, today, some critics are attributing the red hooded cloak to the traditional red gown of the Schwalm region of Germany. Evidently, the desire to find the essence of German culture in these tales persists.

In April of this year, the historical museum in the Philippsruhe Castle in Hanau added a room featuring the Brothers Grimm and a fairy tale exhibit for children. The children’s exhibit highlights Hanau’s own Marie Hassenpflug with an interactive video in which an actress portrays the storyteller and answers questions the viewer can choose from a list. This recognition of one of the Sisters Hassenpflug is well deserved.

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