Jacob and Wilhelm we all know them, yet they weren’t the only ones Grimm brothers. The Grimms’ family was actually much larger: Dorothea Zimmer and Philipp Wilhelm Grimm had altogether nine children. Three had died in cots; but the others had survived.
The Grimm family therefore was not composed only of the famous Jacob and Wilhelm; but also by Ludwig Emil, Carl, Charlotte Amalie and finally by Ferdinand.
Ferdinand was the fifth child, the youngest. Also Ferdinand Philipp Grimm he was a writer, he wrote fairy tales drawn from popular tradition; but the stories of him today are not remembered nor are they part of the famous anthologies of the fairy tales of the (two) Brothers Grimm.
Who was the third Brother Grimm? Why was he consigned to oblivion?
The Roman publishing house L’orma editore now delivers to the Italian public for the first time the fairy tales censored by popular tradition: Cat Mountain. Tales and Legends of the Third Brother Grimm will be in bookstores from January 27th.
Let’s discover the story of Ferdinand Grimm and the reasons for his oblivion.
Ferdinand Grimm: the unknown brother
Ferdinand Grimm he was born in Hanau on December 18, 1788. When his father died in 1796, Ferdinand was only eight years old and was taken into the custody of his older brother Jacob, who had become the new head of the family. Their relationship immediately proved to be complicated: little Grimm was a lively child and, once he grew up, he became an unpredictable teenager.
In their letters, the older brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, often referred to him as a “loafer” or a “slacker” who risked ruining himself with his own hands.
In truth, Ferdinand was a dreamer: he loved getting lost in wanderings around the city and chasing his imagination, what others judged as “laziness” was nothing more than a sort of indomitable artistic flair. He nurtured an unbridled passion for books, in the compulsive purchase of which he frequently squandered his savings; and he dreamed of becoming a writer, even though he hadn’t written anything yet.
The Christmas Day 1810 the Grimm family was shocked by an unexpected revelation that had the effect of an earthquake. The scandal was Ferdinand’s work, of course, who had spoiled the holidays for the idyllic little bourgeois family.
In that episode we can trace the reasons for the oblivion of the third Grimm brother. No trace of it can be found in the letters – industriously revised and erased by Wilhelm’s son, Herman – nor in any subsequent writing. What Ferdinand Grimm said that Christmas day in 1810 is not difficult to guess: in their personal correspondence Jacob and Wilhelm repeatedly referred to the “strangeness” of their younger brother, and from the analysis of the terms used by them the Germanist Heiner Boehncke he deduced that the latter was homosexual.
Ferdinand’s “Christmas” revelation was not a welcome gift, it was promptly covered up and silenced; he transferred as a package from his brother Ludwig, to Munich. In the capital of Bavaria, the younger Grimm remained for a few years, pursuing the fatuous dream of becoming an actor; finally he returned to Berlin where he found work as an editor at the prestigious publishing house of George Reimeron the recommendation of older siblings.
While he edited other people’s books, Ferdinand found time to devote himself to his own writings as well. In those years he published some short stories under the pseudonym of Lothar. These were mostly fairy tales and popular legends that drew inspiration from the folklore of the Germanic tradition.
He wrote under a pseudonym and would continue to do so, for his real surname was already becoming too famous and was associated with the success of the Hearth talespublished by Jacob and Wilhelm in 1819.
The two famous Grimms didn’t look kindly on the literary attempts of their younger brother who had improvised as a “scribe”. They continued to observe him and judge him with ill-concealed contempt. They did not recognize the talent of Ferdinand’s writings: for them the minor had remained a slacker, a “loafer”, an “inconclusive”, all characteristics now aggravated by his “inverted life”. After all, the tumultuous ups and downs of the little one of the house only proved the other two right. Unfortunately, Ferdinand was fired by the Berlin publisher.
After losing his job in Berlin, Ferdinand found himself without income and had to make do back-front and return home to Göttingen; but family coexistence had become impossible.
The younger Grimm then moved to the town of Wolfenbüttel, ready to start another adventure under the name of Friedrich. At the local registry office he was baptized with that very name which kept only the initial of his original, ready to be reborn again even to himself.
In his new life he published a collection of German legends, signing himself under the pseudonym Philipp von Steinau. He presented his book as a “fairy-tale itinerary” for anyone wishing to travel to Germany; but success did not smile on him. The sales of the other two Grimms, on the other hand, were booming and poor Ferdinand, while he struggled with various precarious jobs, supported himself with the money sent to him by Jacob.
Despite all his efforts, he was still considered a “loafer”, unable to support himself in a dignified way. He lived a miserable life, made up of hardships, but always holed up in libraries, where he read and wrote about myths and legends.
The January 6, 1845 Ferdinand died of pneumonia: he was only fifty-six years old.
His latest book Tales of mountains and castles it was published posthumously in a prestigious edition under the name that he himself had chosen: Friedrich Grimm. His latest literary effort was reviewed in a German newspaper and published with a beautiful preface, written by a “mysterious B.” which showed that he knew the author of the book very intimately.
It seemed that B. had wanted to give a gift to Ferdinand and his “graceful flowers of the imagination”, perhaps in the hope that others too could smell it.
The mountain of cats: in Italy the fairy tales of Ferdinand Grimm
The work of the third brother Grimm comes to the attention of the Italian public for the first time thanks to the volume Cat Mountainpublished by L’orma editore, which collects fairy tales and legends written by this unjustly forgotten genius.
Ferdinand’s literary talent shines in all its originality in these stories that mix fairy tale and myth, demonstrating an unbridled passion for the magical and the supernatural.
Among the numerous stories collected we also find that of the legendary one Cat Mountain, which stands not far from the German town of Merseburg. Maybe if you go to those places you can still see it and maybe find the bishop’s black cat, which is lost.
The story of Ferdinand Grimm, the “unknown brother”, lives again in the excellent preface written by Marco Federici Solari which offers Italian readers an unprecedented and accurate portrait of this brilliant writer with a free and nonconformist personality. After all, today Ferdinand appears so contemporary in his decision to live outside the box, faithful only to himself, to his art and to the dream of one day becoming a “writer”, as he had taken care to point out on his identity card.
Cat Mountain restores to Ferdinand Grimm his dignity as a “writer”, showing for the first time on the title page, without any camouflage or censorship, his real name.
A posthumous compensation – and due – to a great artist, who perhaps one day will be recognized as the “more ingeniousby the Brothers Grimm.