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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth -- guest review from Katie at Bookish Illuminations

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (2015)
Fairy Tale Fortnight

Hi Everyone! This is Katie from Bookish Illuminations. I recently came across the sign-ups for The Fairy Tale Fortnight with The Book Rat and A Backwards Story.

Would I sign up for the 5th Annual Fairy Tale Fortnight?!? You bet I would! Especially since I had in my hands a beautiful UK copy of Kate Forsyth’s new book about Dortchen Wild, a girl who grew up next door to the Grimm Brothers and who helped Wilhelm Grimm with his famous collection of fairy tales.

Ahead in this post: Some background from Kate Forsyth herself on this new book, some videos, my own thoughts about The Wild Girl, and a RECIPE from Dortchen Wild herself: Damson Plum Jam Cake. Yum.

I have a great love for fairy tales—it’s one of my favorite units to teach in both my college children’s literature courses and in my middle school English classes. I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of fairy tales—they’re timeless because they explore themes that will also be relevant, and we know it.

Here’s a link to the Sur La Lune Webpage, with detailed information about what exactly is included in the Brothers Grimm Collection.

I invite you to step with me into the early 19th century world of Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl, and I’ll share with you my thoughts on the book (without giving anything away). But, first a little background about the story from Kate Forsyth’s website.

About The Wild Girl (from Kate Forsyth’s website)
“The Wild Girl tells one of the greatest untold love stories of all time – the heart-breaking romance between Wilhelm Grimm and the young woman who told him many of his most famous stories. Her name was Dortchen Wild, and she grew up next door to the Grimm family in Hessen-Cassel, a small German kingdom that was one of the first to fall to Napoleon. It was a time of war and tyranny and terror, when the collecting of a few old half-forgotten tales was all the young Grimm brothers could do to resist the oppressive rule of the French.
The True History of the Grimm tales:
Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector’s mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm, the only girl in the Grimm family, and the two became best friends.
In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairy tales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen was the source of many of the tales in the Grimm brother’s first collection of fairy tales, which was published in 1812, the year of Napoleon’s disastrous march on Russia.
Dortchen told Wilhelm ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Six Swans’, “Rumpelstilstkin’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, ‘The Singing Bone’, and many, many more.
Dortchen’s own father was cruel and autocratic. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry – the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day.
[SPOILER] After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairy tale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm’s elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.

The Story Behind the Story:
I first stumbled upon the beautiful love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild when I was doing the research for my novel ‘Bitter Greens.’
I knew at once I had to turn it into a book. The story had everything I love in a novel – romance, drama, heartbreak, and – most importantly, perhaps, for me – the redemptive power of storytelling.
It was possibly the most difficult and challenging book I have ever written, primarily because the Grimm brothers are so revered and so much has been written about them – the research took me forever!
Dortchen, however, was a mystery. I had only a few letters written by her, and not much written about her, and so I had to imagine what her life must have been like, with the help of letters and diaries of other women of her time. I spent so much time imagining myself into her skin she began to haunt my dreams – and not all of her life was beautiful. In the end, I felt as if writing this book was a way to help Dortchen exorcise her demons … and allow me to dream sweetly again.”
Kate Forsyth chats about her book, The Wild Girl in this 11 minute video!

And here’s another interview with Random Book Talk that’s about 12 minutes.

What I Liked:

-The History in the story: The book is set from 1805 onwards and opens in the Medieval town of German Hessen-Cassel, an area that was the first to be conquered by Napoleon. This is a part of history that I’m not as informed about, so I loved learning more through the story. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love this aspect of the book.

-The insight into how instrumental women were in the collection of the Grimm fairy tales. For example, it’s the teenager, Dortchen Wild, who tells about one QUARTER of the stories to Wilhelm Grimm that end up in the Brothers Grimm collection. The book opens when Dortchen is twelve, and this is the age at which she meets Wilhelm.

-Dortchen tells Wilhelm some of the BEST stories in the collection, such as Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, and The Six Swans. I’m actually currently reading Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which is a retelling of that very tale. Dortchen is a fabulous character—she’s a storyteller, she can throw together a meal in no time at all and with very limited ingredients, and she has a curiosity and thirst for life. Though she lives with an abusive father, she perseveres and lives in hope, no matter how small a sliver that might be.

-Forsyth’s beautiful descriptions and the setting of the scenes—complete with historical details and alive with the sights and sounds of the forest. Whether Dortchen is putting together an herbal remedy for Wilhelm by gathering key ingredients from her garden, or the Wild sisters are rummaging through dresses in the attic in preparation for a ball, Forsyth has a way of inserting historical accuracy to reflect vivid passages. If you watch any of the interviews with Forsyth, you’ll hear that she spent FIVE years researching this book. That made me happy because though Forsyth may have used creative license to imagine certain aspects of Dortchen’s upbringing and developing relationship with Wilhelm Grimm, we know that she relied on historical documents for the foundation of her narrative.

Here we have Dortchen Wild’s story—and this story is inextricable linked with what would become the famous Brother Grimm collection of Fairy Tales:

“Out in the forest, it was just Dortchen, free as the wind in the leaves and the birds in the sky.”

-Dortchen’s and Wilhelm’s relationship—the span of time covered in the novel means that we watch Dortchen from the age of twelve onwards. First, she develops a friendship with her next-door neighbor, Wilhelm. She is drawn to him, and develops a crush, but of course, she hides it, though the fact that her best friend is Wilhelm’s sister means that she does get to spend a fair amount of time in his presence. The developing relationship is beautiful to watch, but at the same time there’s heartbreak in this book, no doubt about that. But stay the course—you’ll find it’s worth it.

-I loved getting lost in this story. Yes, it’s fairly long at about 500 pages, but it doesn’t feel like a lengthy and drawn out story. It’s a wonderful tale, and I can say that I’m even more in love with fairy tales after reading this engrossing story of a woman who played an important role in the creation of a collection of fairy tales that would become a world-wide phenomenon.

Who Should Read This Book:

If you like Fairy Tales and historical fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this new book by Forsyth. If you liked Bitter Greens, you should consider it. My own interest in fairy tales means that I immediately wanted to read this one. Background history on collectors of fairy tales, such as the Grimms? I’m sold!

The Final Illumination:

My recommendation would be to sit down with a few fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers, and then open up this new book by Kate Forsyth and read the “behind the scenes” history surrounding the creation of these famous fairy tales and their tellers. Of course, you might want to eat a piece of Dortchen’s plum jam cake as you are reading.

This book is released in the U.S. on July 7th, 2015.

GoodReads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23014642-the-wild-girl

A Recipe from Dortchen Herself:


Just think: you can bake a cake that Dortchen Wild ate back in the early 19th century! Perhaps even while she was telling some of her stories that later became the fairy tales in the Brother Grimm’s collection…

I don’t know about you, but I’m off to make this cake immediately.

I’m so pleased to be a part of the Fairy Tale Fortnight, and am looking forward to all the posts from bloggers for this magnificent event!

~ Katie
Want more fairy tales? Return to the main schedules
by clicking here for The Book Rat or here for A Backwards Story


  1. Cake aside, this book looks fantastic. I LOVE when an author "uncovers" a person previously lost to history, especially when it's a woman in an era where women were not empowered. Real-life heroines ftw!

    1. Beth, that's one thing I loved about this book, and I love that Kate Forsyth did all this research! I'm definitely recommending this to people who love feminism and fairy tales!

  2. What a wonderful story to discover and to tell! I just read Bitter Greens and loved it, so I'm definitely checking out this one.

    1. Lory, I now MUST get a copy of Bitter Greens as I haven't read that one. I think Kate Forsyth will be an auto-buy author for me!

  3. This sounds like a great book! I know very little about the 'brother's Grimm' and I had no idea that there was a story like this in their life. (Seriously, I thought this was going to be a fictitious addition to their life instead of based on things that really happened.)


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