Brothers Grimm Marry Him

Long before Lori Gottlieb wrote her famous book, indeed long before the Brothers Grimm wrote this tale down, German parents were warning their daughters about the danger of becoming overly picky when selecting a husband.  Today’s tale is called King Roughbeard, and it is about a beautiful princess who isn’t satisfied with any of the greatest men of the land:

A king once had a daughter who was beautiful beyond measure, but so haughty and proud that she considered no man good enough to marry her. She pretended to accept one after another the suitors who approached her, and then treated them with mockery and scorn. At last her father, the king, made a great feast, and invited all the most illustrious men for miles round to be present. All of them were introduced to the proud young princess by their rank. First, the king of a neighbouring country, then a duke, then a prince, and, after these, nobles of high position.

But the princess, when asked to choose for herself, had some fault to find with each. One was too fat, another too thin, a third was short and thick, and a fourth had a face as pale as a ghost; and so on, till they all went away quite offended, except one son of the king of a neighbouring country—the highest of them all. Now the princess in her heart liked this one of her suitors best, but she made no difference in her manner to him. The young prince had a very good-looking face, but his chin was a little crooked, and he had a rough beard.

” Oh !” said the young princess, when she saw he still waited after the others were gone, “what a chin he has, to be sure; just like a bird’s beak ! I shall call him King Roughbeard and she laughed heartily as she spoke.

But as we saw with Cinderella, actions have consequences in Brothers Grimm tales.

After the feast was over, and the king found that not only had his daughter dismissed all her lovers, but that she had mocked and insulted his guests; he was very angry, and took an oath that his daughter should take as a husband the first poor wayfarer who came to the castle.

The king kept is word and married her to a minstrel who performed in a request for alms (basically a bum looking for a handout).  He then sent her away to go live with her new husband.  On the way to her husband’s hovel, they travelled through the woods belonging to Prince Roughbeard’s kingom, and the princess bemoaned her terrible fate:

“Ah, me !” she cried ; “this wood belongs to the prince that I mocked and insulted. Ah ! poor delicate creature that I am ! if I had only married him when he wanted me !”

Then they reached the husband’s tiny home, and she learned that from now on she would need to work according to her new status in life:

“Where are the servants ?” asked the king’s daughter.
“What servants?” replied her husband. “You must wait upon yourself now; and you will have to do all the work, to light the fire, to fetch the water, and cook my dinner, for I am too tired to help you.”

The princess was being punished now for her pride. Her husband, although he could sing, looked so repulsive in his ragged clothes, and with his face tied up as if he had the toothache, that she did not care to do anything for him.

After a slow start, she eventually did do the work required of her.  When they needed money, her husband had her take on extra work in the home to supplement their income, but she lacked the skills needed for these occupations and fails at them.  Finally he sets her up with a stall at the market where she sells goods for a small profit:

” See, now,” said her husband, ” you are good for nothing at work. I am badly oft” indeed with such a helpless wife; so I must find a trade for you. If I purchase a basket-full of different wares, you can sit in the market and sell them.”

“Ah !” thought she, “when the market people from my father’s kingdom come out and see me sitting there with things to sell, how they will mock me.”

But she accepted that she had no choice if they were to make enough money to survive, and plus her husband was a kind man and she wanted to do well for him.  However this didn’t work out either after an out of control horseman knocks over her stall, so he set her up with a job as a kitchen maid in the castle of the same prince she had scorned, and she learns he is about to be married:

They brought her whatever pieces were left for her to take home for dinner and supper, and she was often very tired. But she could hear what went on in King Roughbeard’s castle, and at last the servants told her that a great festival was about to take place in honour of the young king’s marriage.

The poor wife, who remembered that she could once have been his wife but for her pride, felt very sad; yet she could not help going to the door of the grand saloon, that she might see the company arrive.

The prince recognizes her, and in the process she is greatly humilliated:

she saw all at once a noble-looking prince approaching her. He was richly dressed in velvet and silver, and wore a golden order across his shoulders. He saw the beautiful princess who had lost her position through her own pride standing at the door. He knew her at once, although she was so meanly dressed; but when he advanced and took her by the hand, to lead her into the ball-room, saying that she must dance with him, she was in a terrible fright, and strug­gled to get free, for she knew it was King Roughbeard, her lover, whom she had treated with contempt. But it was useless to refuse, he held her hand so tightly, and led her in.

In the struggle the band that fastened her basket round her waist broke, and all the broken pieces [kitchen scraps] which the servants had given her were scattered on the floor, and rolled in all directions, while the company looked on and laughed, in tones of mockery. Her shame was now complete, and she wished she could at that moment hide herself a thousand fathoms deep in the earth. She rushed to the door to run away

What she doesn’t know is that her husband has been the prince (now king) all along.  The prince catches up with her and explains:

” Do not fear,” said he, in a gentle tone; ” I am the wandering minstrel with whom you have lived in the wretched house in the wood are the same. My love for you made me disguise myself that I might win you through your father’s oath. I was the hussar who upset your basket I have done it to try if, after all, you really loved King Roughbeard, whom you refused and mocked; and I hoped that your proud thoughts would be humbled, and your haughty spirit bend, and that it would be as a punishment for having mocked and spurned me.”
Then she wept bitterly, and said, ” I know I have done wrong, and I am not worthy to be your wife.”
But he said, “Be comforted; all is past now. You are my wife, and we have a splendid festival to celebrate the event after all.”

Then he took her to a beautiful chamber, where the maidens of the court dressed her in royal robes, and when her husband came and conducted her to the great hall, there was her father and his whole court ready to receive her, and wish her joy on her mar­riage with King Roughbeard, and so was there a joyful end to all her troubles.

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40 Responses to Brothers Grimm Marry Him

  1. sdaedalus says:

    I love this series.

    I think the moral of the story is, you don’t appreciate what you’ve got till you lose it.

    Could it also apply to men, I wonder? Let me know what you think.

  2. JD says:

    I like the old fairy tales too! We just have to suspend all sense of logic to enjoy them.
    When I was a little tyke and heard this story I asked “why did they all want to marry her anyway, she was so mean and stuck-up?”

    mmm…there’s another moral here, but I won’t point it out!

  3. J says:

    Then she wept bitterly, and said, ” I know I have done wrong, and I am not worthy to be your wife.”

    So male fantasies also contain apologies from the opposite sex? Who would have thought so? ;-)

  4. dalrock says:

    That is a very common theme from the stories my wife has shared, and I do think that specific moral applies to both sexes yes. There is another story where a mother is frazzled at taking care of her young sons and wishes they would turn to birds and fly away. Her wish comes true and she spends the rest of her life trying to catch them and turn them back.

  5. David Foster says:

    SD…”you don’t appreciate what you’ve got till you lose it…Could it also apply to men?”

    Definitely. I think the phenomenon is probably most vivid in the case of women because in western societies at least women are the choosers, and do the choosing when they are near the peak of their sexual attractiveness/relative power.

  6. Eumaios says:

    Weird translation choice. “Thrushbeard” makes far more sense of her saying his beard is like a bird’s beak.

  7. dalrock says:

    I’m pretty sure you are right. I think I saw that translation of the title when searching for an online version to link.

  8. David Collard says:

    Yeah … sexy.

  9. David Collard says:

    There are a lot of stories with the theme of the haughty woman humbled by housework. Try “Overboard” (the moview ith Goldie Hawn).

  10. JackAmok says:

    Thanks again Dalrok. Lots of good morals in this story.

    1) don’t be overly-choosey. You are not too good for the world
    2) don’t wantonly insult people who have done no wrong
    3) don’t piss off the King, even if he is your father.
    4) if you screw up and find yourself in a bad place, bust your ass to make the best of it

    I may have to get this collection for my kinders.

  11. J says:

    a mother is frazzled at taking care of her young sons and wishes they would turn to birds and fly away. Her wish comes true and she spends the rest of her life trying to catch them and turn them back.

    LOL, I can sympathize with that one. Kids can take it all out of you and then, one day, they’re gone. Gotta enjoy it while you can.

  12. J says:

    On the subject of Marry Him, has anyone here actually read the book? I haven’t.

    I’ve seen Lori Gottlieb lambasted on both Jezebel and various sites in the manosphere, but from what I can piece together from both views is that she is actually giving some good advice–don’t go for the flash, don’t be picky over stupid stuff, and realize that you only have a limited time to have kids. Does anyone know firsthand what she is actually saying?

  13. sestamibi says:

    See also “Maid to Order” with Tom Skerrit, Ally Sheedy (?) and Beverly D’Angelo.

  14. JD says:

    No – haven’t read it and won’t be. I guess the title “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” offended people’s sensibilities. Some of the manosphere sites were irked by it and I’d have to agree with them. What man wants to be thought of in terms of “well, you’ll do, I guess, no one else has come along that’s any better?” Lori Gottlieb’s personal life apparently involved a lot of dating and rejecting man after man; not positive, but I think she did the sperm donation thing to have a baby before it got too late. I can’t think of any other reason to marry unless you both truly love each other and are mature enough to take on the commitment.

  15. dalrock says:

    grerp did. I’m guessing Susan Walsh did too. Here is the write up I found from grerp on her site. I’m not sure if I missed a follow on post once she finished it or not.

    http://grerp.blogspot.com/2010/04/note-1.html

  16. J says:

    Thanks. The review makes the book sound like good advice based on sound research. It sounds like the feminists have one ax to grind while the PUAs have another. But the message of the book–if you want kids, find a very good you can love earlier on as opposed to search endlessly for a fantasy man–makes sense. I don’t see why peoiple vilify her. What am I missing?

  17. J says:

    So she has an attitude?

  18. J says:

    I can’t think of any other reason to marry unless you both truly love each other and are mature enough to take on the commitment.

    In a post-feminist world, I think that’s sole reason. You can add in having kids as a reason, but it’s a shame to bring them into a situation that lacks love and commitment.

    Editor: Closed initial italics tag.

  19. J says:

    Editor: Closed initial italics tag.

    Thanks!

  20. Hope says:

    Well, she’s “beautiful beyond measure,” and a princess on top of that. What man wouldn’t want that, despite the character flaws? Very few, I would venture to guess. The fine clothing and royal decoraton undoubtedly added to her appearance as well.

    This story demonstrates that men would rather take a very beautiful woman with personality problems in the hopes of “reforming” her than a very plain woman with the personality of an angel to begin with, because the status of having the beautiful woman greatly outweighs a good personality.

    Of course, the dream woman is amazingly beautiful and has a wonderful personality. Consider that there a natural human tendency to assign positive attributes to the outwardly attractive, and it’s not difficult for a beauty to merely behave herself sans too much bitchiness to garner the “good personality” award.

  21. Aunt Haley says:

    Now there’s a blast from the past.

  22. grerp says:

    Here are my other thoughts:

    http://grerp.blogspot.com/2010/04/thoughts-on-marry-him-by-lori-gottlieb.html

    It took me an excruciatingly long time to get through the book. The essential message – to be realistic about what you yourself have to offer and cast your net correspondingly wider – is a good one. But Gottlieb basically states this and then tries to implement it and doesn’t like the restrictions her age and choices have put on her so she whines and critiques all of her options mercilessly. And then she begins another chapter and the cycle begins again. Her initial list of what she wants in a man is 2.5 pages long, and she rips on tons of guys during her quest to find someone. She also manages to get a dig in on women who were smart enough not to hold out absolutely forever, but are, you know, not as accomplished as Gottlieb. In a fairer world, this would not be so – the best men would not settle for being scooped up by mediocre but decisive women. They would wait around for Gottlieb and women like Gottlieb to get their adventures out of their systems and then love them for the strong, talented, ambitious, creative, challenging women they are.

    Honestly, despite writing down her newfound wisdom, I hold no hope out that she will be able to implement it in her own life.

  23. J says:

    Thanks, grerp!

  24. Seikis says:

    Male fanstasies? Is that what Grimm brothers are all about? Anyways, since the nanny state took control, the wife does not have to suffer so much. Divorce, welfare, alimony, yadda-yadda…..

  25. gunslingergregi says:

    Pretty dead on accurate for woman.
    Men on other hand really can afford to wait all they need is money and shiney things to attract woman he he he

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  27. Gorbachev says:

    I’m tempted to go out and read this book myself. I’d like to see what a typical professional SWPL – Jewish Woman thinks. I’ve heard from a number of people that she’s very stereotypically Jewish- New York.

  28. Badger Nation says:

    Gorby,

    It was only a matter of time before a publisher bankrolled a book promoting the dreaded “settling.” That’s a lie…Dr Laura’s latest books told women to shut up about small stuff and sleep with their husbands. Dr L aside I found Gottlieb’s whole campaign disingenuous, for the following reasons:

    1. Her book is marketed as a tome to settle for what’s really important to you. But that’s not what’s in the book – the book basically says “in your 30’s and want to get married? Just marry the next schmuck who comes along!”

    2. The marketing sells Gottlieb as if she’s a late 30’s spinster who has had a change of heart. In reality, and she states this, she is in the market for a beta provider for her test-tube child.

    3. Gottlieb has a history of mental illness (that is not hyperbole) and if the statements of others is to be believed, has an unbelievably critical and projectionistic personality. So there are good personality and compatibility – not pickiness – reasons she is single. Meanwhile she is selling other women on “don’t be like me!” hasty marriage decisions as if her situation and theirs were

    The base kernel of Gottlieb’s idea was a good one, unfortunately the publisher backed the wrong horse. In reality, the settling neurosis cannot be cured with a self-help book. It takes a real soul-searching expedition to give up on the entitlement and snowflaking, and (this is the major flaw in most young women I see) some experience in real life paired with a willingness to live in reality. It comes from a deeply ingrained instinct to be unsatisfied with life and fundamentally unhappy, and from a control-freakish attitude that “my life has to be how I WANT it to be RIGHT NOW!” instead of accepting life’s unpredictable turns as part of the fun of the ride.

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  36. Stephen says:

    An awfully late contribution to this discussion, but a similar story can be found in Sigrid Undset’s marvelous “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy of novels about a medieval Norwegian woman who undergoes a somewhat similar, though much more realistic, learning experience about marriage. Highly recommended for anyone who reads this site.

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