Printer Friendly


Tousle-haired, applecheeked, sunny natured, more than content to grow up in a mountain but on a three-times-a-day diet of chunks of cheese, cold meat, black bread and bowls of goats milk with only a grumphy grandfather and a young goatherd for company, Heidi, the eternal earth child of the alpine meadows has entranced endless generations of children every where and set then dreaming of a magic mountain place far removed from cut grime and urban congestion.

Even in today's walkman world, Heidi's pure pastoral appeal and simplistic lifestyle still seems to be capable of competing in the imagination with the electronic lure of a new play station. A whole region of eastern Switzerland has recently been named in her honour. Libelled with bold red and white "Heidiland" signposts, its attractions are trumpeted by internet and visited in person by hordes of Heidi fans from around the globe. The stories continue to be well-placed in the children's classic bestseller lists and every now and again a new film is added to a long roster.

All this would have been far from the imagining of Heidi's unassuming creator, Johanna Spyri, when at the relatively advanced age of 43 she began to write stories principally for children and young women about the people and the innocent country life of her youth. Spyri, born Johanna Heusser in Hirzel in 1827 was the fourth of six children. She attended school in Hirzel and later in Zurich. She spent a year improving her French in Yverdon, before returning home to act as the governess of her two younger sisters. A voracious reader, she spent her summer holidays in Jens and Maienfeld, the pretty mountain region near Sargans and Bad Ragaz, close to the Austrian and Liechtenstein borders, which she later chose as the setting for Heidi.

In 1852, Johanna married Johann Spyri, a Zurich lawyer and editor of the "Confederated" newspaper. She joined an artistic and literary group, called the Monday Fellowship and gave birth to her son, Bernard. In 1871, Johanna's first timid excursion into the field of narrative writing "A Leaf on Vrony's Grave" appeared, semi-anonymously as "by J.S." She continued to write, and in 1878, her volume "Outcast" included the first two "Stories for Children and For Those Whom They Love." The years that followed until the premature death of her son and then her husband in 1884, were her most productive and she completed 20 pieces, mainly for children. In 1880 and 1881, "Heidi's Lehr und Wanderjahre" (Heidi's Formative Years) appeared in two parts to immediate success. Readers delighted in the story of the young girl living with her reclusive grandfather in the flower-filled meadows above Maienfeld and the miraculous healing effect of the crystalline pure mountain air, nourishing (despite alarmingly milk-saturated and s urprisingly unfattening) diet and stress-free lifestyle on her friend Clara a crippled rich girl from Frankfurt. Despite the acclaim, Johanna continued to keep her identity secret, signing only as "from the writer of 'A Leaf on Vrony's Grave'," but soon afterward, as more Heidi stories appeared under the title of "Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat" (Heidi Might Need to Know What She Has Learned) she used her own name and became internationally famous.

The deaths of her husband and son in the same year were a dreadful blow and for the rest of her life, she lived almost in isolation in a house called the "Escherhauesern" in Zeltweg, Zurich. She took extended holidays in the alps for her health and continued to produce a total of 48 stories. In addition to Heidi, her books include The Little Alpine Musician, Uncle Titus and Veronica.

Since Spyri's death in 1901, the Heidi stories have never been out of print. Translated into scores of languages they have formed the basis for many films, including the memorable 1937 Hollywood version starring Shirley Temple and a 1993 remake with Jason Robards.

Recently the canny local tourism marketing authorities decided to put this undiminished renown to more concentrated use "Ferienregion Heidiland" --rather boldly claimed to be "the true Switzerland"--was born and duly signposted. A visit to the region should make a person end up as Heidi: "Looking as happy and contented as anyone could be."
COPYRIGHT 2000 Swiss News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Swiss News
Date:May 1, 2000
Previous Article:COWS IN COURT.

Related Articles
Weeks, Sarah. So B. It, a novel.
Heidi, an ambassador for Switzerland: the Japanese have loved Switzerland since author Johanna Spyri wrote her novel of the Alpine orphan-girl Heidi....

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters