Jacob Grimm Biography

Author (1785–1863)
Jacob Grimm was a 19th century German scholar who, along with brother Wilhelm, published Grimms' Fairy Tales, a collection famous for its children's stories.


Jacob Grimm was born on January 4, 1785, in Hanau, Germany. He and younger brother Wilhelm studied German folklore and oral traditions, publishing a collection of stories that eventually became known as Grimms' Fairy Tales, and includes narratives like Cinderella and Rapunzel. A prolific author, Jacob also did pioneering research on languages and created the principles known as "Grimm's law." He died in Berlin, Germany, on September 20, 1863.

Early Life and Career

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born on January 4, 1785, in the town of Hanau, Germany, to Dorothea and Philipp Grimm. Jacob was the eldest of several siblings, including the brother born soonest after him, Wilhelm. Their father worked as a lawyer, and both Jacob and Wilhelm eventually pursued legal studies at the University of Marburg.

Jacob went on to work as a royal librarian for Napoleon's brother, Jérôme, king of Westphalia, in 1808, and later worked as a municipal auditor. In 1816, Jacob joined his brother to work at a library in Kassel, where Wilhelm had obtained a position as secretary.

'Grimms' Fairy Tales'

Influenced by German Romanticism, a prevailing movement of the time, the brothers robustly studied the folklore of their region, with an emphasis on recording village oral storytelling that was vanishing with the advent of new technology. Jacob's and Wilhelm's work culminated in the book Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the first volume of which was published in 1812. A second volume followed in 1815. The collection would later come to be known as Grimms' Fairy Tales.

Though the brothers wrote that the tales were taken primarily from German village oral traditions, the stories were in fact an amalgamation of oral and previously printed fairy tales, along with information shared by friends, family members and acquaintances, with non-German influences. Various editions of the tales would be produced over the next several decades. The work would also go on to be translated into dozens of languages, and become regarded as a pioneering force in the field of folkloric investigation.

Trailblazing Work on Languages

Jacob also pursued scholarly research on German language history, publishing the first edition of the book Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar) in 1819. Jacob's further research on the rules governing certain languages of related origin led him to create a set of principles. Known as "Grimm's law," this method works to explain Indo-European linguistics.

By 1830, both Jacob and Wilhelm had obtained positions at the University of Göttingen, and Jacob soon published a highly influential book looking at the pre-Christian beliefs of Germanic communities. The two left the university in the mid-1830s—the result of being banished by the king of Hanover after they protested changes he'd made to the region's constitution.

In 1840, the brothers decided to settle in Berlin, Germany, where they became members of the Royal Academy of Science and lectured at university. They subsequently took on a massive project—a comprehensive dictionary of the German language. Both brothers died before the dictionary could be completed, and it was finished years later.

Jacob Grimm died on September 20, 1863, in Berlin, Germany. Throughout his career, he authored 29 books, eight of them with his brother.

The Brothers' Legacy

Grimms' Fairy Tales, which includes works like Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), Snow White and Rose Red, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, have been retold in a wide variety of media formats over the past several decades—as such, the storylines have often been tweaked to fit varying ideas of what's appropriate for children. Much dialogue has been had about the violence contained in the stories' original forms, with controversy also arising over the anti-Semitic and anti-feminist themes found in some of the tales.

Nonetheless, the Grimm legacy continues to be celebrated. To mark the bicentennial of Grimms' Fairy Tales, 2012 saw a number of special tie-in publications and special events, including a BBC Radio reading by various authors and a published retelling of the tales by novelist Philip Pullman.

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