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One hundred and fifty years or so after Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm died, the brothers have become literary legends in the same way as William Shakespeare. Even those who haven’t read their actual texts have no doubt been exposed to the stories and ideas they collected in the form of bedtime stories, Disney adaptations and modern reimaginings. Cutting across generations and classes, their influence touches all types, which makes sense given they experienced the highs of great prosperity and the lows of crippling poverty before they reached adulthood.
Long before they had a Google Doodle, the Brothers Grimm were born into a well off family in Germany. Their father was a distinguished member of the community, and they lived in a large house with servants. Education was a top priority in the family, and private tutors for the boys were hired. Unfortunately, when Jacob was 11 and Wilhelm was 10, their father contracted pneumonia and died. Without an adult male earner, the family almost immediately fell on hard times and could barely afford one meal a day.
Taking any odd jobs they could find and continuing their studies at a local school, the Brothers Grimm still graduated at the top of their classes and went on to the University of Marburg to study law. While there, they met Professor Friedrich von Savigny. He pushed them toward folklore. Jacob eventually had to drop out to make extra money to send back home, but through Savigny, they both got jobs as librarians and began collecting as many folk tales as they could find. Over the course of the next few decades, they taught classes at a university, worked at the library and churned out anthologies of legends, mythologies and tall tales. They were later forced out due to their political beliefs that Germany should be united and had to beg friends to support them for years. Luckily, the political climate eventually changed. They became members of parliament and taught at various universities until retirement.
Altogether, the Brothers Grimm lived portions of their lives in crippling poverty and portions of their lives in leisurely comfort, but like the characters in many of their most loved tales, they kept smiles on their faces and kept pushing forward. They weren’t defined by their circumstances; they merely adapted to them. 200 years after publishing their first collection of stories, they’re as popular as ever with the rich and the poor, and there’s something very fitting about that.