Struwwelpeter: Helpful Hilarity
The Awful Warning carried to the point where Awe topples over into helpless laughter.– Harvey Darton
Struwwelpeter (Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures) by Dr Heinrich Hoffman (1845) is a classic of gleefully gruesome cautionary rhymes about naughty children. Hoffman was a psychiatrist who founded an influential Frankfurt asylum and pioneered counselling as an alternative treatment to cold baths (his life was novelized in Clare Dudman’s 98 Reasons for Being). The characters in Struwwelpeter were inspired by his child patients – he’d tell them stories and draw pictures to calm them down. Hoffman was looking for a book for his three year old son and could only find ‘stupid collections of pictures, and moralising stories’, so he created Struwwelpeter. It was one of the first picture books designed purely to please children – before then children’s books were mainly religious or moral lessons with titles such as An Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children. Read more about ‘shock-headed’ Peter here.
‘The book has long oscillated between being accepted as harmless hilarity and being condemned as excessively horrifying’- Humphrey Carpenter