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For other uses, see Heidi (disambiguation).
Spyri Heidi Cover 1887.jpg
Author Johanna Spyri
Country Switzerland
Language Swiss German
Genre Children's fiction
Publication date

Heidi (pronounced [ˈhaɪdi]) is a Swiss work of fiction written in 1880 by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, originally published in two parts as Heidi's years of learning and travel (German: Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre) and Heidi makes use of what she has learned. (German: Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat)[1] It is a novel about the events in the life of a young girl in her grandfather's care, in the Swiss Alps. It was written as a book "for children and those who love children" (as quoted from its subtitle).

Heidi is one of the best-selling books ever written and is among the best-known works of Swiss literature.[2][3]

Plot summary[edit]

Aunt Dete hurrying away after leaving Heidi with the Alm-Öhi.

Adelheid ("Heidi")[4] is a girl who has been raised by her aunt Dete in Maienfeld, Switzerland after the early deaths of her parents, Tobias and Adelheid (Dete's sister and brother-in-law). Dete brings 5-year-old Heidi to her grandfather (her father's father), who has been at odds with the villagers and embittered against God for years and lives in seclusion on the alm. This has earned him the nickname Alp-Öhi ("Alm-Uncle"[5] in the Graubünden dialect). Alm-Uncle briefly resents Heidi's arrival, but the girl's evident intelligence and cheerful yet unaffected demeanor soon earn his genuine, if reserved, affection. Heidi enthusiastically befriends her new neighbors, young Peter the goatherd and his mother and blind grandmother. With each season that passes, the mountaintop inhabitants grow more attached to Heidi.

Three years later, Dete returns to bring Heidi to Frankfurt am Main to be a hired companion to a wealthy girl named Klara Sesemann, who is regarded as an invalid. Klara is charmed by Heidi's simple friendliness and naïveté, and delights in all the funny mishaps brought about by Heidi's lack of experience with city life. However, the Sesemanns' strict housekeeper, Fräulein Rottenmeier, views the household disruptions as wanton misbehavior, and places Heidi under more and more restraint. Soon Heidi is terribly homesick, and grows alarmingly pale and thin. Her one diversion is learning to read and write, motivated by her desire to go home and read to Peter's blind grandmother. Klara's own grandmother visits the children and becomes a friend to Heidi. She teaches Heidi that she can always seek relief from misery by praying to God.

After months pass, the Frankfurt household is brought near hysteria by night sightings of what appears to be a ghost. When Klara's father and his friend, Klara's doctor, keep awake one night to find out what is causing the disturbances, they see that the "ghost" is actually Heidi, sleepwalking in her nightgown. The doctor sees that Heidi is under a great deal of stress. He cautions Klara's father that if Heidi is not sent home promptly, she may become very ill. Soon, a joyous Heidi returns to the mountains, where she teaches Alm-Uncle about the comfort of prayer. She reassures him that it is never too late to turn back to God. Her simple lesson prompts her grandfather to descend to the village and attend a church service for the first time in years, marking an end to his seclusion. He is heartily welcomed back by the church pastor and the villagers.

Heidi and Klara continue to keep in touch and exchange letters. A visit by the doctor to Heidi leads him to eagerly recommend that Klara visit Heidi. He feels assured that the fresh mountain air and the wholesome companionship will do her good. Klara makes the journey the next season and spends a wonderful summer with Heidi. Klara becomes stronger on goat's milk and fresh mountain air, but Peter, who grows jealous of Heidi and Klara's friendship, pushes Klara's wheelchair down the mountain to its destruction (although he later feels guilty about what he did and confesses to it). Without her wheelchair, Klara attempts to walk and is gradually successful. Klara's grandmother and father are amazed and overcome with joy to see Klara walking. Klara's wealthy family promises to provide care for Heidi, if there comes a time when her grandfather's no longer able to do so.

Film, television and theatrical adaptations[edit]

About 20 film or television productions of the original story have been made. The Heidi films were popular far and wide, becoming a huge hit and an iconic animated series in several countries around the world. The only incarnation of the Japanese-produced animated TV series to reach the English language was a dubbed feature-length compilation movie using the most pivotal episodes of the television series, released on video in the United States in 1985. Although the original book describes Heidi as having dark, curly hair, she is usually portrayed as blonde.

Versions of the story include:


Maienfeld, the main town in Heidiland

Heidiland, named after the Heidi books, is an important tourist area in Switzerland, popular especially with the Japanese (and also in South Korea).[6] Maienfeld is the center of what is called Heidiland; one of the villages, formerly called Oberrofels,[7] is actually renamed "Heididorf."[8] Heidiland is located in an area called Bündner Herrschaft; it is criticized as being a "laughable, infantile cliche"[6] and "a more vivid example of hyperreality."[9]


The two sequel books, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children, were neither written nor endorsed by Spyri, but were adapted from her other works by her English translator, Charles Tritten, many years after she died.

There are some major differences between the original Heidi and the Tritten sequels. These include;

  • Heidi, the original story by Spyri, shows the simple life of Heidi imbued with a deep love of children and childhood. Spyri mentioned that the work was "for children and those who love children". The sequels portray Heidi in a different manner, as she grows up and gets married.
  • Heidi in the first book, Heidi, is described as having, "short, black curly hair", when she is around five to eight years of age. In Heidi Grows Up, when she is fourteen, her hair is long, straight and fair.
  • In some English editions of Heidi the names of the goats are translated into English (Little Swan and Little Bear), while other editions use their original Swiss-German names, Schwanli and Baerli. In Heidi Grows Up only the names Schwanli and Baerli are used.

Basis for Heidi[edit]

In April 2010, a Swiss professorial candidate, Peter Buettner, uncovered a book written in 1830 by the German author Hermann Adam von Kamp. The 1830 story is titled "Adelaide: The Girl from the Alps" (German: Adelheide, das Mädchen vom Alpengebirge). The two stories share many similarities in plot line and imagery.[10] Spyri biographer Regine Schindler said it was entirely possible that Spyri may have been familiar with the story as she grew up in a literate household with many books.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nathan Haskell Dole, translator of the 1899 edition
  2. ^ "Swiss Literature (old link)". revue.ch. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007. Retrieved March 4, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Swiss Literature". admin.ch. Archived from the original on February 6, 2008. Retrieved March 4, 2008. 
  4. ^ Meaning of „Heidi“ (German)
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b Abend, Bernhard; Anja Schliebitz (2006). Schweiz. Baedeker. pp. 145–46. ISBN 978-3-8297-1071-8. 
  7. ^ Beattie, Andrew (2006). The Alps: a cultural history. Oxford: Oxford UP. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-19-530955-3. 
  8. ^ Simonis, Damien; Sarah Johnstone; Nicole Williams (2006). Switzerland. Lonely Planet. p. 274. ISBN 978-1-74059-762-3. 
  9. ^ Solomon, Michael R. (2006). Conquering consumerspace: marketing strategies for a branded world. Broadway: Amacom. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8144-0741-7. 
  10. ^ "Basis for Heidi". Heidi inspiration. 

External links[edit]

Heidi on a CHF 50 Swiss commemorative coin, 2001.