Aussie Book Review: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

wild The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth


Review copy provided by author

Random House, March 2013

 Synopsis- Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.

Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wikhelm Grimm.

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror.  Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall.  Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’.  As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms.  Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter.  Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

 Review- Once upon a time…

The Wild Girl is a fanciful tale of love, overcoming adversity and following one’s dreams by Australian author, Kate Forsyth. A historical saga that spans almost two decades during the early nineteenth century, a time when Jane Austen’s stories were set. Prior to reading this story I’d never heard of Dortchen Wild nor did I know much about the Grimm brothers.

In The Wild Girl, Kate Forsyth provides a well-researched and believable portrayal of young Dortchen Wild, the girl next door to the famous Grimm brothers. This is the story of the origins of Grimm’s fairytales, the books that have been enjoyed by children and adults alike for more than a century. Set in Hessen-Cassel, a small kingdom in Germany, Dortchen is the third youngest of a family of about 8 children, all but one are female. The Wild children live next door to the Grimm family, a houseful of boys apart from young Lotte who is Dortchen’s best friend. Even at just 12 years old, Dortchen develops a big crush on one of the older brothers, Wilhelm, a sensitive guy who is passionate about storytelling and collecting old folk tales in conjunction with his older brother Jakob. Of course, given the age difference Wilhelm sees Dortchen as a sisterly figure for many years and it’s not until Dortchen reaches her late teens that sparks begin to fly.

Their relationship is set against the backdrop of War, the invasion of the French and the Germans yearning to retain their language, customs and religion. The Wild family are struggling financially, but with their pharmacology shop they are much better of f than the Grimm family whose eldest boys struggle to find work and hope to avoid enlistment in the war.

Dortchen has quite a difficult upbringing. She takes a liking to creating medicines and collecting herbs in the footsteps of her father’s profession but he is a controlling, abusive man. Dortchen has a strong desire to help those in need, particularly the Grimm family and her rebellious nature often makes her the target of her father’s temper. She is the scapegoat of the family. But as her mother’s health deteriorates and her older sisters get married and leave home her responsibilities increase and her father’s abuse is amplified. Dortchen is the victim of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. It was difficult to read this portion of the book, but I think Forsyth provided a very accurate portrayal of the control dynamics of Dortchen’s father and the changes in her behaviour. It was very clever how Forsyth weaves the fairytales throughout the broader story as Dortchen’s cry for help, her attempts to communicate the extent of her suffering. Dortchen changes from a bright, vivacious storyteller to a anguished, withdrawn and subservient daughter. It was depressing to read of these changes and the isolation she experienced during this time, including the distancing between herself and Wilhelm. Forsyth has quite sensitively addressed the very serious issue of sexual abuse and its effects on Dortchen’s emotional health and her personality and ability to form trusting relationships with others.

The Wild Girl is a long story, there are times when the pacing is a little slow which isn’t unusual for a historical novel, especially one that spans such a long period of time. I did feel the ending was dragged out a little, but I can understand that the story is to reflect the facts that are known about Dortchen and Wilhelm during that time. It was well worth the wait though and I finished the book with a smile on my face and many, many fairytales drifting in and out of my mind- makes me want to collect all these stories myself! Luckily the Grimm brothers did all the hard work and so all I have to do is order a few collections online!

An engaging historical novel about fairytales, love, despair and hope that at times reminded me of Little Women- only a little darker. My first Forsyth novel, but it won’t be my last. I highly recommend this tale.

The end.

Check back in tomorrow for my Q&A with the author, Kate Forsyth.

Overall Rating


“I loved this book!”

The Wild Girl can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2013 challenge:



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