Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2 January 2013 “Shock-headed Peter, Slovenly Betsy, and Cruel Head Frederick”

heinrichhoffmanHeinrich Hoffman was a physician. He was the son of an architect, Phillip Hoffman, who was well known for his contribution to the roadways and waterways of Frankfurt, where Heinrich was born.

Though a rather slow and lazy child who took his time at finishing his physicians training, he soon buckled down and became a hard working doctor splitting his time between a free “paupers clinic” and his own private practice.

His foray into writing came about when he wished to find an illustrated book for his three year old son for Christmas. He was disappointed in the tales of his time and felt they held no specific moral guide and thus was born: struwwelpeterimageStruwwelpeter (Straw head Peter in English).

Though to modern eyes the books seems harsh, almost cruel in some respects, to his Victorian Peers it was seen as common sense and also with a bit of wit. I think we often miss the sly humor and quiet wit of the Victorian. Perhaps in our overly critical and sometimes far too politically correct way, we often miss the point. And when it comes right down too it, these stories do contain some common sense, such as keep clean, be kind and considerate of others and don’t consider yourself better or above others. Good ideas for any modern person or nation today.

Lucky for us, his works are beyond copyright and we may enjoy them today. I will include the links to them as well as put them into my hopefully growing library of interesting vintage free books.

  Here is peter:shockheadedpeter Some say that Edward Scissor-hands was based on this idea and illustration. Certainly one can see how Edward Gorey must have been inspired by these early tales.

Here is an interesting German short read in the original language and done with some fun costuming.


The book lead to many film and stage versions. Here is a compilation of a rather well recieved stage production from 1998. In this interpretation one can see how we modern viewers take it more as a Gothic horror story, when in fact it was rather a light slightly comic tale with real moral ideas in its own time.

Another poem in the book is Cruel Frederick. (You can click on the images to see them full size).

cruelfrederick1  cruelfrederick2 cruelfrederick3

Hoffman’s other work for children is a similarly instructive tale entitled “Slovenly Besty” slovenlybetsy Betsy is just one of a few characters in this tale and here is a bit of her story:


Slovenly Betsy and Strawhead Peter Can by found by clicking the links. They will also now reside in the library as well.

Here are some lovely children’s school stage productions of the poems in English. They are sweet in their innocence and rather more like the original intent, I believe. Enjoy!


  1. Great to see you back!


  2. Those stories just crack me up, but in an outsider kind of way. I agree that they provide common sense that a child of that era would need to survive (and methinks this one too.) My Austrian MIL shudders with laughter at the mention of these stories. Over the years I've become accustomed to the strange sense of humor shared by my husband, his siblings and their mother.

  3. Grew up with these poems - read to me by my grandmother from my grandfather's book he had as a boy in Germany. Love every one of them and learned from them. My daughter, born in the 80's, grew up on them as well; can't wait to raise another generation on them. Most folks are horrified by them - I think they are dead on and more of this no nonsense approach is needed. May make the world a little kinder we're too vanilla right now in our view - heaven forbid we teach through realism.