Epic romance from footnote in history

Cecilia Yu

Women locked in towers, Napoleon born with teeth already in place, the lives of the Brothers Grimm and the woman who inspired them. Book lovers, aspiring writers and fans who braved the miserable weather were rewarded by Kate Forsyth’s flair for spinning a good yarn. 

The packed audience gathered at Hornsby Central Library on Wednesday night to hear Forsyth talk about her new book The Wild Girl heard about the book and much more. 

They heard stories from her childhood, (spent largely in hospitals after a savage dog attack destroyed one of her tear ducts as an infant), experiences from which she cultivated her passion for books.

They heard about her personal journey as a writer, from her misadventures as a 16-year-old sending off her first manuscript, to her fruitless struggles to get published at 25, to signing her first book deal three days before her 30th birthday.

And they got the fascinating tales behind her new book, a historical novel based on the true story of Dortchen Wild, the largely forgotten source of many of the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales and the wife of Wilhelm Grimm.

Kate Forsyth: digging deep and making up stuff

Kate Forsyth: digging deep and making up stuff

Kate described Dortchen’s story as largely a “footnote in history”, but with thorough research into the historical background and facts from the time, she was able to build what she described as an “epic romance” out of Dortchen’s story.

I had to dig very deep and make up a lot of stuff,” she said, explaining how she had searched for clues to Dortchen’s inner life by looking at what traces of her life remained, notably letters and a memoir, as well as the stories Dortchen had passed on. 

The letters helped her find clues to the blossoming romance between Dortchen and Wilhelm, Kate explained.

She didn’t like the fact that now she was 12 she had to shake people’s hands when she met them… but [she wrote] ‘I wouldn’t mind shaking Wilhelm’s hand’. So we know from that one letter that Dortchen had a childhood crush.

Facts are still important,” Kate said when asked what role history had in her fictional re-tellings. “As far as possible, I am truthful to them.” But, she noted, “I am a novelist, not a historian, I pick and choose.”