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Annotations for Girl Without Hands

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The annotations for the Girl Without Hands fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on the Girl Without Hands Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Girl Without Hands to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.

I have included the Grimms' notes to the tale as translated by Margaret Hunt followed by SurLaLune's textual annotations.

The Grimms' Notes For the Tale

From two stories current in Hesse which, on the whole, complete and agree with each other. The one from Zwehrn lacks the beginning, and only says that a father wanted to have his own daughter to wife, and as she refused, cut off her hands (and breasts), made her put on a white shirt, and drove her out into the world. The sequel of this story, however, which is told almost in the same way, surpasses the other in internal completeness, only in the former the incident of its being the Devil who changes the letters is retained, whereas here it is the old Queen who is from the very first ill- disposed towards her step-daughter, who does it. There are also the distinguishing features, that before the girl marries the King she keeps the fowls for a while in his courtyard, and that after wards, when she is driven out with her child on her back into the wild forest, an old man bids her fold her maimed arms thrice round a tree, and while she is doing this, they (and her breasts also) will, by God's grace, grow again of their own accord. He also tells her that the house in which she is to live, will only be allowed to open to him who shall thrice beg for admission for God's sake, which the King, when he comes to it, is afterwards forced to do before he is let in. A third story from the district of Paderborn coincides on the whole with that from Zwehrn. Instead of an angel, a little light which comes down from heaven guides the unhappy maiden. As she is going about in the forest with her stumps of arms, she sees a blind mouse which puts its head into a running stream, and thus receives its sight again. So, weeping and praying, the girl holds her arms under water, and her hands grow once more. A fourth tale from Mecklenburg contains another form of the saga. A certain man had a daughter, still a child, who day and night was always at prayer. He grew angry and forbade her to do it, but she went on praying continually, until at last he cut out her tongue, but she prayed in thought, and embraced the cross with her arms. Then the man became still more angry, and cut off her right hand, but she clasped the cross with her left. He cut off her arm as far as the elbow. Then a man said to her, "Depart, or thy father will cut off thy left arm as well." She was just seven years old, and she walked onwards and ever onwards until in the evening she came to a great house, in front of which a huntsman was standing. She made him understand that she was hungry, and that she wished he would let her go in. The huntsman would willingly have done it, but did not know where to put her; at length he took her to a dog's kennel, where two pet dogs of the rich Count, in whose service he was, were lying. She stayed two year in the kennel, and ate and drank with the dogs. Then the Count remarked how thin the dogs were growing, and asked the huntsman what was the reason, and he confessed that he had taken in a girl who was sharing their food. The Count said that he was to fetch her to him, but the girl would not come; so he himself went down to the dog-kennel and saw her, and said she was to go with him into his castle and he would bring her up. She was then nine years old, and it happened that one day when she was standing by the gate, a poor grey-haired man came and begged for a charitable gift. She gave him something, and then he said, "Thou shalt have thy tongue and thine arm back again," and gave her a staff and said, "'lake this staff, and walk straight onwards, it will protect thee from evil, and hw thee thy way." So she took the staff and walked on for the space of two years. She reached a lake and drank some of it, and then her tongue came swimming to her and grew fast in her mouth, and then she put the maimed stump into the water, and the arm came and grew fast in its old place, and after that the hand came also. And now she took the staff, and returned to the Count, hut she had grown so beautiful that he no longer knew her. She made herself known to him, and they were married.

One can see that this story is the popular source from which in the middle ages sprang the well-known poems Mai and Beaflor Fair Helena and others. A fragment of a fourth story from Hesse coincides also strikingly with this. In this the Queen is driven out with her children, and her two fingers are cut off, which the children carry about with them. The children are stolen from her by wild beasts, and serve as scullions, and the mother as a washerwoman.

A story from Meran, in Zingerle, p. 124, which is linked with the story of The Two Brothers (No. 60), also belongs to this group. So likewise does No. 36 in Pröhle's Kindermärchen. La Penta manomozza, in the Pentamerone (3. 2); two Servian tales (Wuk, Nos. 27-33) are allied, and probably also a Finnish story in Rudbek (1. 140). See Schiefner, 600, 616. An old German tale contains the saga of a king who wishes to have a wife who resembles his daughter. The Pope gives him permission to have the daughter, who refuses him, and is put into a barrel. (Pfälz. MS. 336, folio 276-286.) The girl's washing herself clean with her tears occurs also in a Swedish song (Geyer, 3. 37, 38) when the mother comes out of her grave to her children.

"hon tvälla dem sa snöhvit
alt uti ögnatar."

[A story which I have never met with in print, but which was told me by my friend the late James Macdonell, hears a strong resemblance to Das Mädchen ohne Hände, No. 31, in so far as the method employed to escape from the power of the Evil One is concerned. The beginning is very different. It is as follows. In a lonely farm house, near Tomintoul, Banffshire, dwelt a poor farmer with his wife and family. Things had gone ill with him, and he had for some time not been able "to make all ends meet." At length he was obliged to let his eldest daughter go out to service. In order to find a place she walked to the hirings held at Grantown, which was several miles from her own home. These hirings were held twice a year at the great Candlemas and Martinmas fairs, and men and women stood in the market-place waiting to find places. She stood all day long, but no one hired her. At last, late in the evening, and bitterly disappointed at losing this chance of helping her family, she went homewards. Her way was a very lonely one, and led her across the spurs of mountains, just as they dipped down into the moorland, and long before she drew near home, darkness fell. Suddenly, as she was hurrying onwards, a man joined her whom she had never before seen. "Good evening, mistress," said he, "Good evening," said she, and as he still continued to walk by her side, and talk to her, she told him of the great disappointment she had just met with. "No one has hired you!" cried he. "Why, what wages do you want?" She told him the amount, and be said, "I will hire you; you shall come to me, and here are your arles" (God's-penny). The girl had been very glad when he said that ho would hire her; but as he put the money in her hand, she shivered all over, and felt that there was something awful about this stranger. She took the arles, however, and then he told her that at twelve o'clock on the following night she was to come to him at a place very near her father's house, where four roads met. When she got home she told her father and mother what she had done, and what she thought about this stranger, and they too were much alarmed and convinced that he was the Devil. They sent for the priest, who came in the morning. He, too, said that the stranger was the Devil, but declared that the girl must keep her word with him. So when night came she went to the place where the four roads met, and by the priest's orders, drew a circle, and stood within it, saying always the Lord's Prayer and Ave Maria. At midnight there was a loud clap of thunder, and an angry flash of forked lightning, and immediately after a host of horrible black fiends rushed forward against her, screaming and gesticulating as if they won rend her in pieces. Her alarm was intense; but some how she was just able to remember that the priest had told her never for a moment to cease praying, and making the sign of the cross, and never by any chance to allow herself to be terrified into overstepping the limits of the circle. She was likewise not to turn her back to her enemies. They, for their part, did their utmost to make her leave the circle and to weary her out with terror, that she might lose all power of resisting them. Sometimes they attacked her in front, sometimes behind, rushing madly on her, making the most horrible faces, uttering the most horrible cries, glaring at her with fierce fiery eyes, or seeming about to claw her forth and destroy her. Over and over again she felt as if she must faint for very weariness, or turn and tall into their power, but at length after many hours, a pale light in the sky showed that day would ere long dawn, and a cock crowed, on which all vanished, and she was delivered.-TR.]

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

SurLaLune's Annotations

1.  Maiden without Hands:  Source is Marie Hassenpflug (Paradiz 90). The story was changed greatly from the original 1812 version to the 1854 and the major changes are noted below.
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2.  Miller:  While not noble, millers did have some rank in society as their job, grinding flour, was needed by all. In the Industrial Revolution, mills went from manual labor in terms of hoisting the flour bags to "an early form of automation" (Hagley) powered by water that hoisted the bags. By the mid 1800s used a water turbine (Hagley 16). The fact that the miller is so poor indicates hard times, possibly caused by a famine, a war, or even the Industrial Revolution (perhaps the mill is out of date). The miller can not even make a living doing his normal job. In the 1812 version, the miller is simply poor and not sliding into poverty (Zipes, Brothers, 176).
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3.  Mill:  A mill "represents the equalizing effect of fate, which provides equal justice in the same way that a mill grinds every grain without prejudice" (Biedermann 221-222).
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4.  Large apple tree:  According to Frazer, in Germany and other parts of Europe there was a tradition of planting a tree at the birth of a child, the growth of the tree representing the growth of the child (682). The tree was "tended with special care" (682). In the story, the father does not show this special care for he is willing to trade the tree so quickly. In Switzerland, a pear tree was planted for a girl, an apple tree for a boy (Frazer 682) "and the people think that the child is then believed to grow with the tree" (Frazer 682).

In the language of flowers, an apple blossom means, "Will the glow of lover finally redden your delicate cheeks?" (Biedermann 136). Apples are the sacred fruit of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and can also symbolize sexual knowledge (Biedermann 16). The Latin word for apple (malus/malum) is similar to the word for evil (malum) (Biedermann 16). The apple can also symbolize both the fall from the Garden of Eden as well as the fact that Christ makes a return to innocence possible (in some paintings Christ is either holding or reaching for an apple) {Biedermann 16-17). The crab apple means "This rigor that seems harsh chastises evil and conserves virtue" (Biedermann 17) in heraldry.
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5.  Into the forest: The forest is a place of change. It can also be a place of danger. There is also a connection to meeting gods in the forest, and when the devil appears in the forest he is being connected to the old gods (Biedermann 158).
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6.  That must have been the devil:  Pacts with the devil have long been a literary tradition, dating as far back as the Old Testament (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360). Usually the hero tricks the devil or "is eventually saved by his repentance and inner transformation" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360). Here the miller is guilty of stupidity. He makes a pact with the devil, but he doesn't know it until his wife tells him. The story makes it clear that the father is not wholly to blame and absolve him of all that follows because he was tricked (Ashliman).

The word devil comes from the Greek diabolos which means "adversary, prosecutor" (Lindemans). The Greek term is a translation of the Hebrew Satan (Lindemans).
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7.  Beautiful, pious girl:  Her looks are very important and there is a tendency in stories to have beauty and goodness paired together. The description strengthens the blamelessness and goodness of the girl. In the 812 version, she simply "lived though the three years in the fear of God and without sin" (Zipes, Brothers, 176).
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8.  Circle around her with chalk:  A circle is drawn to protect a magician from the demon that he/she has summoned (Biedermann 70), but according to Jung, the circle can also symbolize the whole self (Nataf 66).
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9.  Take all water away from her:  In the 1812 version, it is cleansing water (perhaps meaning holy water) (Zipes, Brothers, 176). Water can symbolize life, fertility, destruction, and submission (Biedermann 373). There is a belief that some types of moving water could be used to cast off an evil spirit if a person washes with the water (Biedermann 374).

The story, in both versions, makes it clear that the father acts because he is fearful of the devil. Zipes writes,

The father is not terribly concerned about the future of his daughter. He is worried about his impoverishment, and he does not hesitate to chop off her hands. He is a frustrated man, concerned about his inability to succeed- perhaps his virility-and he finds a way to vent his frustration by attacking his child and then rationalizing it. He simply expects her to forgive because he cannot help himself, because he is afraid of the devil. His violation of her is not treated as a crime but rather as an emergency; she is made to feel guilty if she does not relent. (Brothers, 172-173).

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10.  Cut off her hands:  Hands connect a person to god (though the act of prayer) and mean loyalty and (Biedermann 163). It should also be noted that the father was the head and controlling figure of the family.

In a variant of the story that the Grimms recorded, the father cuts off the hands and the breasts of his daughter when she refuses to marry him. Most, if not all, critics see this tale as a tamed down and coded story about incest. The best known essay is the "The Psychoanalytic Study of the Grimms' Tales with Special Reference to 'The Maiden without Hands (AT 706)" by Alan Dundes. Ashliman sums up the main support for the incest theme when he says, "These tales too {where the father has a stand in such as the devil} are dealing with molested children, but the storytellers suppress the fact that the threat is coming from within the girl's own household".

Ashliman continues, "It is easy to see how a child, abused by the principal authority in her household-the individual who should be her most powerful protector-could see herself as being without hand, the human extension that must directly allow use to manipulate and control the world outside ourselves". In addition, mutilation to save one's virginity or to keep a vow has been a common theme in both the East and the West since ancient times (Zipes, Fairy Tale Tradition 506). Maria Warner points out, "Only horribly disfigured in this way can she become inviolable and so resist" (348).

The maiden at this point has not real control over what happens to her and it is only though losing her self-worth, without hands she cannot perform any household duties. She has escaped but at a high cost.
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11.  Here I cannot stay:   Ashliman points out that the tale "obviously require that the abused woman give up all the privileges of her father's position when she makes her escape".
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12.  Royal garden and by the shimmering moon:  A cloistered garden was designed to resemble the Garden of Eden, and "the enclosed garden represents virginity in general and that of Mary in particular" (Biedermann 149). The garden is also a place of growth (Biedermann 149).

The moon is usually seen as feminine and is also linked to the Virgin Mary (Biedermann 240). The Virgin Mary is the "intercessor in heaven" (Jones 175), a saint whom intercedes on the behalf of the petitioner. There is also a tradition of the moon as replenishing (Opie, Tatem 260). This also connects to the garden which has replenishing fruit.
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13.  Angel:  In the second and third centuries, angels were recognized by the Church (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 10). According to the "Apocalypse of Saint Paul", "guardian angels protect the virtuous who have renounced the world" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow). In some ways, the maiden has renounced the world when she left her father's house.

Jack Zipes points out, "The later 1857 version makes the maiden more helpless, more stoic, and dependent on the angel. In addition, the tale becomes much more didactic and moralistic. It is as if one merely had to place trust in God and do the right things, and everything would turn out well."(Brothers, 171). The maiden, here and in other places, is rewarded because she turns to god, her heavenly father, for help. In some ways the angel (acting for god) is taking the place of the girl's father. Her earthly father gets her into danger; her heavenly father protects her (as her earthly father should have done).
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14.  Beautiful pears:  In the 1812 version it is an apple tree (Zipes, Brothers, 177).

A pear resembles a woman's body (Biedermann 258). In Switzerland, pear trees were planted at the birth of girl (Frazer 682). Pears are also sacred to Hera, the Greek goddess who is the protector of marriage (Biedermann 258).

There is also a famous allegory involving a pear tree. Hugo of Tremberg in 1290 described a pear tree dropping pears onto grass or onto thorns. In this allegory, the pear tree is Eve, the fruit her descendents (the human race), "whoever does not fall into the green grass of repentance, dies in mortal sin" (Biedermann 258). Return to place in story.

15.  Ate one: In the 1812 version, the maiden shakes the tree with her body and crawls around eating the apples that fall (Zipes, Brothers, 177). This change makes the girl more restrained and less animal like. It is a dainty and lady like action. She does not over indulge, and she takes as little as possible. She is still a good, pious girl.
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16.  Took her with him into his royal palace:  In the 1812 version, she is captured by the guards, assigned to watch over the chickens, and later the prince (who becomes king) marries her (Zipes, Brothers, 177-178).

Silver is associated with the moon though it is valued less than gold (Biedermann 308). However, "silver jewelry came to be associated with middle-class prosperity; it was frequently used to make devotional objects. Silver was popularly believed to ward off demons" (Biedermann 308).
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17.  Silver hands:  

(This note provided by Heidi Anne Heiner.)
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18.  Queen's tongue and eyes:  The tongue is the symbol of martyred saints as well as language (Biedermann 346). The queen also does not have much need for her tongue because she hasn't said anything since leaving her father's house.

Eyes are the symbol of the soul and can symbolize the trinity (Biedermann 122).

In the 1812 version, she is simply sentenced to banishment (Zipes, Brothers, 178).

A hind is another word for a doe and "stands in many myths for the female animal in general, which can have a demonic character "(Biedermann 96).
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19.  Prayed to God:  In the 1812 version, an old man helps her to nurse her child, and then tells her to wrap her arms around a large tree three times. After she has done this, she gets her arms back (Zipes, Brothers, 178). Here she is reward with protection and the return of her arms because she asks god for help and is pious. The regaining of her arms seems to be a signal that she is now an adult. Midori Snyder writes, "The narratives make it clear that without her arms, she {the maiden} is unable to fulfill her role as an adult." When her arms returned to her, the maiden no longer needs help to feed her son.

"Here all dwell free" could refer to the fact that the maiden gains her adult, independence, and is no longer pursed by any threat (such as the devil).
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20.  Seven years:  According to Bettleheim seven is a "symbol for each day of our life" (84). The fact that the king fasts and has God's support points towards his goodness. It could also be a form of penance.
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21.  Offered meat and drink:  If the king is fasting as a form of penance to take the offered food would be a break of that fast. Because he refused, he shows his piety like his wife does when she prays.
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22.  The angel went into the chamber:  The ending is very different in the 1812 version. He does not fast, and it is unclear how long he is looking for his wife. The king is traveling with a servant who sees a house in the forest and wants to rest. The King wants to keep searching for his wife, but finally gives in "out of pity" for the servant. The Queen is recognized by the servant who is greatly confused because she has her hands back. When the servant asks to enter the house, he is refused because he did not ask for God's sake. Finally, the king asks to be let in for God's sake three times (the required amount). The couple is reunited, leave the next day and the story ends as the house disappears (Zipes, Brothers, 178-179).
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23.  Sorrowful:  The name of the son seems to be the only indication of the Queen's reaction to all that has happened to her.
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24.  Were married again:  Midori Snyder notes, "Every narrative version concludes with what is in effect a second marriage. The woman, now whole, her arms restored by an act of magic, has becomes herself the magic, aligned with the creative power of nature . . . When he {the husband} comes to propose marriage this second time, it is a marriage of equals, based on respect and not pity."

It is also important that it is only in the ending sequence of the story that the Queen speaks to her husband. When they first meet, she does not say anything.

Jack Zipes raises an interesting question and interpretation about this tale. He says of the 1812 version:

From a psychoanalytical viewpoint, the changes that appear in the 1857 version reveal a great deal about Wilhelm {Grimm}. To begin with, the "betrayal of the father" can be equated with Wilhelm's father's early death. The mistreatment of the girl and her helpless condition can be connected to the mistreatment Wilhelm endured in Kassel, his asthma and heart troubles. The creation of the Strong angelic figure who helps the girl can be related to Jacob {Grimm}, who constantly stood by Wilhelm and came to his aid. The misunderstandings in the marriage that are patched up by the angel may indicate some difficulties in
Wilhelm's marriage with Dortchen Wild that were resolved by Jacob. Finally, the general theme of the story can be summed up by the Grimms' family motto: Tute si recte vixeris - he cannot go wrong whose life is in the right. (Brothers, 171)

Zipes also questions whether or not Wilhelm Grimm had been abused as a child and that this accounts for the changes that he made (Brothers, 172). Zipes does not answer the question, but only raises it as a possibility.
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Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.


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©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 1/2006; Last updated 7/7/07