REVIEW: “Princess Gräcula” by Friederike Helene Unger

Review of Friederike Helene Unger, Eve Mason, trans., “Princess Gräcula”, in A String of Pearls: A Collection of Five German Fairy Tales by Women (2020): 1-23 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story kicks off with everything you expect of a fairy tale — a childless royal couple who are finally blessed with a daughter, Gräcula; a fantastic christening visited by a loathsome witch; a child gifted with all the jewels, gold, beautiful dresses one could desire — and then morphs into a bizarre combination of traditional fairy tale trappings, Dante’s Inferno, and that bit in Pinocchio where he gets turned into an ass.

Unger’s story operates on many levels within the structure of a typical fairy tale; there is the story itself, populated with characters that do not fill the standard fairy-tale tropes (Gräcula’s mother, Sentimentale, is a prime example of this. Rather than being either absent or evil, she is a complex combination of characteristics, delighting in learning and education, reading Greek and enjoying philosophy, but also wanting nothing more than to be a mother.), and then there is the social criticism layered on top — of learning philosophy without first establishing a foundation of good sense and character; of penal institutions in which behavior generally “worsened rather than improved” (p. 20); of the aristocracy.

It’s a bit of a whirlwind. Also: I had no idea telegraphs were already in existence in 1804, so learning that was cool.

(Originally published in German in 1804.)