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The Fisherman and His Wife, by Alexander Zick, c. 1886

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The Fisherman and His Wife, by Alexander Zick, c. 1886.

"'And when he came to the sea, it was quite dark grey, and the water heaved up from below, and smelt putrid. Then he went and stood by it and said,
'Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
Come, I pray thee, here to me;
For my wife, good Ilsabil,
Wills not as I'd have her will."
"Well, what does she want then?" said the Flounder.' And where were they now? Mrs. Ramsay wondered, reading and thinking, quite easily, both at the same time; for the story of the Fisherman and his Wife was like the bass gently accompanying a tune, which now and then ran up unexpectedly into the melody." (To the Lighthouse, I, p.56)

During the first part of To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay reads to her son James from "The Fisherman and his Wife," one of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. The German tales were collected in the first half of the 19th century, but Woolf quotes from the translation by Margaret Raine Hunt, published in 1894 -- this may very well be the edition Woolf herself had read as a child. Hunt's is one of the first translations to capture the impressionistic representation of a stormy sea as it is provided in the original tale. Woolf quotes at length from these passages in the story, providing a fantastic analog for Mrs. Ramsay's real-life worries about whether it will be "fine" enough tomorrow for James to sail to the lighthouse.

This illustration by German artist Alexander Zick was one of many illustrations provided for myriad German, English, and other editions of the Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm's collected Kinder- und Hausmärchen (roughly, Children's and Household Tales), first published in 1812 and completed in 1857. Zick's illustrations are contemporaneous with Hunt's translation of Grimm, which did not include illustrations in its first edition.

Source/Citation: 

Image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Type: 
Contemporaneous Resource
Access Level: 
Licensed for Public Use