REVIEW: “The Nymph of the Rhine” by Charlotte von Ahlefeld

Review of Charlotte von Ahlefeld, Eve Mason, trans., “The Nymph of the Rhine”, in A String of Pearls: A Collection of Five German Fairy Tales by Women (2020): 25-34 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the story from which the anthology title’s string of pearls comes from; Ambrose the poor fisherman is visited one night by the nymph of the Rhine, who spins him a story of woe and makes a bargain with him: If he helps arrange a meeting so she can forgive her past lover, she will make him rich enough to marry his sweetheart.

I found this story fascinating: Right up until the very end, I did not know which of two ways it would end, and either one of them would have fit into the fairy tale trope. I also found interesting the juxtaposition of the clearly-supernatural nymph within a clearly Christian context: Even the nymph herself seems to feel she is a creature of God, and not of the devil. The final distinctive aspect of the story was how the message of equality between partners as the recipe for marital happiness was put into the mouth of a man, and not a woman. It was a strangely feminist message, and it had all the more impact because it wasn’t a woman arguing for it.

(Originally published in German in 1812.)