S1 When Snow White Met Rob Roy

Daily Mail (London), November 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

S1 When Snow White Met Rob Roy


Byline: by Jim McBeth

ONCE upon a time in the enchanted forest of history, the inhabitants of Scotland and Germany searched for their cultural identity. But no matter where they looked, it could not be found. So they trudged on in the dark, mourning the loss of that which had made them special.

In the tradition of all fairy stories, however, rescue was at hand. Three champions would emerge to help find the precious gift.

They would bear quill pens rather than swords - and their tales of beauties, beasts and stalwart Scottish heroes would restore a sense of national pride in two peoples which would, many years later, travel in very different directions.

In the politically fragmented 'Germany' of the early 19th century, the Brothers Grimm gathered their dark fables, with their underlying theme of Teutonic unity, to inspire the creation of modern Germany.

Later, those same fables would fuel the Third Reich's warped expression of nationalism.

At the same time, in Scotland, Sir Walter Scott was determined Scots would escape the gravitational pull of England and be relieved of the burden of being 'North British' - which they had borne since 1707 and the Union of the Parliaments.

Scott's interpretation of Scotland's past would transform outlaws such as Rob Roy into heroes, offering a 'history' of the nation that was woven from romantic longing and misty-eyed sentiment.

But together, the Edinburghborn poet and the German siblings would become global bestsellers - and their success drew a new cultural map of both nations which inspired a friendship between the three men.

The unique and little-known relationship between Scott and the Grimms is explored in a new exhibition about the brothers at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

THE exhibition celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first version of their fairy tales, which have since been translated into 160 languages and inspired countless films that still delight adults and children alike.

At a time when European literature and nationalism were inextricably linked, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm regarded Scott, who was born in Edinburgh in 1771, as a 'spiritual brother'.

The pair, whose famous characters include Snow White and Cinderella in 200 of the world's best-loved fables, wrote to him, presenting the writer and poet with a first edition of their stories.

The book, signed on the title page by Scott, is a highlight of the new exhibition and has been loaned by the Faculty of Advocates Abbotsford Collection Trust.

The letter, and the first edition, heralded the beginning of a correspondence between Scott and Jacob which began in 1814 and would go on for years.

Dr Sarah Dunnigan, senior lecturer in English and Scottish Literature at Edinburgh University, said: 'Scott and the Grimms were fascinated by fantasy, myth and romances.' But while Scott's rather innocent desire was to reinforce the backbone of his kinfolk, the Brothers Grimm longed to see a unified, self-governing Germany.

They were convinced that German literature needed to find a way back to 'Volkspoesie' - its natural roots - and their goal was to unearth the linguistic threads that bound together the Germanic peoples.

Dr Dunnigan said: 'The Grimms were trying to create a Germany. Scott was trying to reassert a Scottish identity.' The seeds sown by Scott and the Grimms would grow in different ways. Dr Dunnigan added: 'In Scotland, it would eventually evolve into where we are today, something of a tartan pastiche or parody of nationalism.

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