Born on June 12, 1827 at Hirzel
, Johanna Louise Heusser was the fourth of six children. Her father, Joh. Jak. Heusser was a doctor
and helper for the mentally ill, while her mother, Meta Schweizer, wrote religious songs and was author of a home chronicle. Their family lived in a small home that doubled as a practice
over the local church. As well as attending primary school, Johanna also received private instruction from Pastor
Salomon Tobler. As she continued her education, Johanna studied modern languages and the piano
In 1844, Johanna moved to Yverdon, in French-speaking Switzerland. However, in 1845 she moved back to Hirzel to raise her two younger sisters. At this time she became an avid reader of Droste-Hülshoff and Goethe, possibly as part of an attempt to separate herself from her mothers more pious world-view. it was at this time that she became friends with the revolutionary writer Heinrich Leuthold, and spent several summers in the area around Chur in Graubünden, which eventually became the setting for her most famous book, "Heidi"
In 1852, Johanna Heusser married Bernhard Spyri, a lawyer. Initially the couple stayed in a flat in Stadelhofen, in Zürich. During this time Johanna was an active member of the Monday club, a literary and artistic club, run by Ms E. Meyer-Ulrich, the mother of C. F. Meyer. It was at this time that she met Richard Wagner and Gottfried Keller. Despite this stimulation, Johanna pined for her life in the country, and battled with depression, which was cured only by a return to her faith. Her son, Bernhard Diethelm, was born in 1855. Her first book, Ein Blatt auf Vronys Grab (A Leaf from Vrony's Grave) was published in 18701, under an assumed name, and was greeted with moderate success by critics. For 10 years, Johanna published a number of stories for adults and children, but it was "Heidi", the story of an orphaned girl living with her grandfather in the Alps, that was to become a worldwide classic, not just for its vivid descriptions of the landscape, but also for the understanding shown for the way children approach life and feelings.
Heidi was published in 1880 as Heidi's Lehr- und Wanderjahre (Heidi's Years of Apprenticeship and Travel), and was followed a year later by Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat (Heidi Applies What She Has Learned), which covered Heidi's adaptation to the big city. The two books were first translated in 1884, and have since been translated into more than forty languages, selling over twenty million copies. Since then, there have been at least seven film adaptations and any number of plays, radio and TV series. Interestingly, at the time of publication of the first Heidi novel, Johanna preferred to remain anonymous, although she published the second book under her real name.
However, Johhanas joy at the success of her writing was shortlived. In 1884, the same year in which her books were translated, Her husband and her son (also named Bernard) died. Johanna devoted herself to charitable causes, and wrote many more stories before her death on July 7th, 1901. A national symbol in Switzerland, Johanna Spyris portrait adorned a postage stamp in 1951 and a 20F coin in 2001. To this day, numerous organisations exist to perpetuate the vision of the world that Johanna Spyri described so vividly in her works.
18711: "Ein Blatt auf Vronys Grab" (A Leaf from Vrony's Grave)
1872-1873: Various stories for adults
1878: Two stories from "Geschichten für Kinder und auch für solche, welche die Kinder lieb haben" (Stories for Children and for Those Who Like Children) appear in "Heimathlos" (Homeless)
1879-1884: 20 stories written
1880: "Heidi's Lehr- und Wanderjahre" (Heidi's Years of Apprenticeship and Travel)
1881: "Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat" (Heidi Applies What She Has Learnt)
1886-1901: 48 stories written
1. Some sources disagree between 1870 and 1871.
2. It's terrible that such a highly acclaimed author should be lacking a proper bibliography on the internet. Anyone who can fill in more information here will be upvoted by me.
drownzsuf Was kind enough to C! this, and mentioned that his great grandfather translated Heidi before the turn of the century.