I’m sure you’re familiar with once upon a times, and wicked step-mothers, poison apples, Prince Charmings and cottages in the woods. I’ve always been captivated by the darker side of fairy tales, and the fact that the Brothers Grimm did not originally scribe such tales for children to enjoy. For instance, did you know that Cinderella’s evil step mother made her ugly daughters slice off their heels with a knife to try and fit into the glass slipper. The Prince only realising the truth when he noticed blood pooling in the shoe? And our heroine Snow White was not merely sleeping, but dead when her Prince found her, and in an unsavoury twist, he fell in love with her rotting corpse and made his footmen carry her body in a glass casket?
Kind of gross right? But darkly fascinating too. And these folktales, coupled with a beautiful historical narrative, make The Wild Girl an excellent read for literature and history lovers alike.
Set in the early 19th century, as Napoleon Bonaparte invades most of Europe, we meet Dortchen Wild, a twelve year old girl who lives next door to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Grimm Brothers are scholars, living a poor existence, but determined to publish a collection of translated folktales and stories. They collect the tales from women they become acquainted with, including housemaids, Mothers and townsfolk, as well as the Wild sisters who live next door.
Dortchen falls in love with Wilhelm the moment she lays eyes on him, and over the course of two decades she tells him the tales that will one day become his famous published works.
Set in a time of drama, poverty and war, Dortchen not only battles her forbidden feelings for Wilhelm, but struggles with starvation, cold, grief and oppression. Not to mention her day to day dealings with a tyrant of a Father.
I love that this book has intertwined the few facts known about the real Dortchen, with speculative events. Forsyth has cleverly weaved Dortchen a fictional narrative that is believable and moving, intense and suspenseful.
The style is easy to digest, with language and dialogue reflective of the era. As you read, you are transported to the kingdom of Hessen-Cassel and the stories that Dortchen relays are vaguely familiar yet somehow distant, and they all will give you goosebumps in the telling.
In Short: With a sprinkle of literature and love; historical faction at its best.