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The correspondence of the Brothers Grimm with their older relatives (1789-1815). Completion of the annotated edition of letters from the early family circle of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

In contrast to the brothers' scholarly correspondence, the correspondence between Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and their older relatives, which comprises around 400 letters, has not yet received adequate treatment. Yet this correspondence, which extends from Jacob Grimm's earliest written documents from 1789 to the death of his aunt Henriette Zimmer (1748-1815), accompanies and documents the decisive years in the development of the brothers into the founders of a scientific and literary life's work with a worldwide presence today. At the same time, these letters span the politically transformative years from the French Revolution to the Congress of Vienna - particularly impressively documented in the letters of the aunt, who accompanied the Hessian Electress into exile in Gotha as chambermaid during Napoleonic rule (1807-1813). The correspondence is therefore an important source for this saddle period, as it illustrates many aspects of the everyday life of the Grimm family and their social network. In particular, it provides - in the context of regional and contemporary historical ties - a wealth of previously unknown information on the brothers' origins, childhood, youth, student days and the early beginnings of their professional activities.

After the early death of his father, it was his grandfather Johann Hermann Zimmer (1709-1798) and above all his female relatives, above all Henriette Zimmer, who played a decisive role in the development of the two brothers. The letters of Henriette Zimmer are therefore a special focus of the editing project, not only because of their number. Of particular interest here are, for example, references to the brothers' early network as well as Jacob Grimm's role in the Kingdom of Westphalia. In addition, both the letters of the aunt and those of the mother Dorothea Grimm (1755-1808), who by no means belonged to the passionate and comprehensively educated letter writers of their time, are also important as documents in their own right.

Henriette Philippine Zimmer, portrait of Ludwig Emil Grimm, 1808, etching [© Grimm Collection of the City of Kassel, Graph. 39[2]

Thus, they raise general questions about female language and writing acquisition and language competence in the middle bourgeoisie of that time, about the specific perception and representation of events, objects and persons - which includes the role of Henriette Zimmer as an unmarried and childless chambermaid at the Hesse-Kassel court. The second larger complex is the correspondence with the grandfather, which represents the earliest preserved corpus of letters of the Brothers Grimm as a whole and which, above all, also provides essential information about the promotion of his grandchildren in cultural as well as human-personal respects.

The private correspondence of the Brothers Grimm with their older relatives thus represents an important biographical, linguistic, cultural, and historical source - a correspondence that at the same time develops from the beginnings of a common linguistic level to an exchange of letters on a very different linguistic level, which is, however, characterized throughout by the assurance of a close emotional bond. The edition thus ties in with the recently increased research interest in private, especially female, correspondence and addresses not only aspects of everyday life, but also the linguistic possibilities of expression in the socially struggling bourgeoisie around 1800. 

The annotated edition of this correspondence as a scarcely known and only rudimentarily indexed group of sources has long been a research desideratum. The aim of this project is to produce a critical complete edition of these family letters, which will make an interdisciplinary contribution to the biographical, regional, linguistic, and general historical context of the life work of the Brothers Grimm, and which will also provide essential new material for further Grimm research.