Kate Forsyth has written over twenty books for children, young adults and adults. Her latest novel, ‘The Wild Girl’ is the story of Dortchen Wild, who was the childhood sweetheart and, later, wife of Wilhelm Grimm, one of the Grimm brothers of fairytale fame. Dortchen has been credited as the source of many of the stories in the Grimm brothers’ fairytale book. Forsyth says that she was enchanted to learn that Wilhelm married one of his key storytellers, a girl who grew up next door, and that is when she decided to write Dortchen’s story.
Forsyth has blended the known facts of Dortchen’s life with fiction to produce a compelling tale. Set in Germany during the Napoleonic Wars, The Wild Girl is both a love story and an insight into a tumultuous time in history. Dortchen’s brother Rudolf is sent into Russia as part of Napoleon’s army and few return as winter catches them on their retreat.
While Dortchen is in love with Wilhelm from the moment she meets him as a girl, a happy ending is a long time coming. Dortchen’s tyrant of a father forbids her marriage to a poor scholar with no prospects. The legacy of his treatment of Dortchen lingers after his death, keeping the lovers apart.
Historical fiction is not my usual fare, and I did find the scene setting a little dense first up, but I was soon engrossed. The story is both well researched and skilfully told. Not only a story about fairytales, The Wild Girl is an epic tale of love, loss and families. Scattered with accounts of dark tales like, The Maiden with no Hands, it is no wonder that it gave the author nightmares.
It was interesting to learn how the Grimm’s fairytales evolved from a scholarly recounting to something lighter and more suitable for children. The dark and frightening original stories are echoed in Dortchen’s own life, but Wilhelm’s retelling of the story Many Bits of Fur offers her a gift — a chance to break free of her past.
Forsyth is currently undertaking a doctorate on fairytale retellings. The afterword where she talks about how she came to tell Dortchen’s story after reading a psychological study on the therapeutic uses of fairy tales to help victims of abuse is fascinating. This complex story offers satisfaction on many levels.
This is my 7th review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
Not long now until the Byron Bay Writers Festival. The pre-festival workshop program is looking very exciting. I will be running a workshop on the 29 July and will be part of a panel for ‘Nuts and Bolts’ on Thursday 1st August. On Friday 2nd August I will be on a panel called ‘One is the Loneliest Number’ with Susanna Freymark and Graeme Simsion and will be attempting to remember everything I ever knew about Australian Women’s Literature at the Stella Trivia Night. On Saturday, I’m hosting Pitch Perfect and am on a panel with Anita Heiss, Martin (Ed) Chatterton and Colin Falconer. Phew.
On Sunday, I rest. Hope to see you there!