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Audible Download Audio Books. In the village the houses are neat and tidy, with vegetable gardens, and of course, flowers. Everything looks orderly, clean and comfortable. Just outside the village, and still higher up the mountain, is the white house that belonged to Joanna's parents. From the house, if you look down over the tops of the fir trees into the valley, you can see the great lake of Zurich, with snow-covered mountains behind it. The Heussers' household was an extended one, including six children Theodor, Anna, Christian, Johanna, Ega, Meta and Christel and a maternal grandmother and two maternal aunts.
This arrangement, which was not unusual for European households of the 19th century, seems to have offered Spyri a bright, happy childhood. Certainly, the places to play surrounding the Heusser house at Hirzel stimulated her young imagination. The children amused themselves with hide-and-seek in the barn, carved their names in the tree trunks of the nearby woods, and the boys tried to capture their sisters' "castle," in reality a landmark stone which rested in the middle of the forest.
Local legends abounded of fairies and gnomes who reputedly inhabited the glens and valleys about Hirzel. Johanna's childhood friend Anna Ulrich recalled that the future author was fascinated by the sound of the wind rustling amongst the firs. Her love for nature already had begun.
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Ulrich described her friend as "lively, without being at all nervous, beaming with cheerfulness, with sparkling eyes in a narrow, florid face with regular features, scintillating with the joy of life and feeling neither cold nor heat nor weariness. Surprisingly, given her later literary acumen, student Johanna disappointed her elders.
Her teacher in the local village school called her a "dunce. Before many years passed, she left the school and received private instruction from Pastor Tobler in the local rectory. There, with one of her sisters and the pastor's own daughter, she began to show promise. Spyri early demonstrated an eagerness for poetry, and she received encouragement in this art both at the rectory and at home. Pastor Tobler featured poems as a regular part of his curriculum. One of her aunts recited ballads at home while her father made each of the children compose a weekly poem to be given to the family each Sunday evening.
Often, the young Johanna composed for less interested and even less talented siblings. Her own mother lingered long at poetry and songs around the house. A shadow of sadness entered Spyri's life at age nine. When her three older siblings traveled to the resort, she was bereft, and to cheer her Dr. Heusser temporarily sent her to stay with relatives near Zurich, located seven miles away from Hirzel. Johanna made the odyssey alone in five hours on foot. Several of her future child characters would also experience melancholy and undertake similar journeys.
American illustrator of children's books. Several other experiences factored into her young life. Father Heusser placed a lamb under the holiday tree one Christmas, thus inspiring the future children's story "The Pet Lamb. In addition to dolls and a doll theatrical house, she took a particular interest in illustrated books including the Vertuch by Goethe. One special friend, however, was destined to last a lifetime.
One of brother Theodor's chums at gymnasium high school frequented the Heusser household on Saturdays, a tall, slender student named Bernhard Spyri. Bernhard shared the family's love of poetry and the theater and joined them in excursions throughout the local countryside. Gradually, warmth developed between Bernhard and the "little wild creature, who never failed to give a witty and clever answer. And he knew just as surely that the happiness of his life depended [on her]…. It was a child hood love, which lasted throughout life. The two married in and settled in Zurich where Bernhard, who had studied law, became a respected town clerk.
Thereafter, Johanna led a secluded life as a mother and housewife.
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Their first and only child, Bernhard Diethelm Spyri, was born in Unfortunately, his life was short. Some sources say he died of tuberculosis during his student years while others maintain he lasted until , the same year that Johanna's husband died. Johanna's attachment to anonymity has left few details to posterity. In fact, no biography exists in the English language and most of her letters, personal papers and even original manuscripts seem to have been lost through the years either from accident or on purpose.
Before the deaths of her husband and son, however, Spyri began writing, a profession she would pursue to the end of her days. She penned her first stories in , at age In this year, France and the German states, neighboring nations to the north and west of Switzerland, were at war. Initially, she wrote in order to donate any proceeds to the orphans of this Franco-Prussian War. Spyri probably assisted the International Red Cross , a charity organized in Switzerland in Certainly, orphans figured prominently in her children's stories.
Her initial works were published anonymously. Throughout the s, her writing blossomed. Her most famous work, Heidi , occupied several of these years and originally comprised two large stories which might properly be termed novellas— Heidi: Publishers combined these two large stories featuring the child-heroine Heidi into one book in the early s. The product, known in the German language as Heidi's Years of Apprenticeship and Travels , was successful immediately and sold 13 editions over the next decade.
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Translators converted her work into English in , the same year her husband and son died. A timid shyness caused her to make the urgent request not to describe her life to the public, for she did not wish to have her innermost, deepest soul laid bare to human eyes. The storyline in Heidi is familiar to most readers of children's literature. A five-year-old orphan girl, Heidi, presents a challenge for her Aunt Dete's family life at the Sesemann household in Frankfurt, Germany.
Dete sends Heidi away to a mountain above the village of Dorfli in Switzerland to live with her grandfather who has become, through the years, a bitter and antisocial recluse. During the following three years, Heidi befriends the goatherd Peter and his blind grandmother and experiences the beauty of the alpine country while bringing out the latent warmth and caring of her grandfather. Dete then returns to Dorfli and convinces the grandfather that Heidi's future lies in Frankfurt where she can obtain proper schooling.
Dete's motivation is to provide a friend for Dr. Sesemann's sickly and morose daughter, Klara. While in Frankfurt, Heidi touches the lives of all but becomes homesick for her mountain retreat and eventually returns to the arms of her grandfather. Longing for Heidi's companionship, Klara and the Sesemann family visit the mountain and all come together in friendship and understanding. The success of Heidi surprised Spyri but did not alter her desire for anonymity.
Meanwhile, her stories continued. As with Heidi , two of her tales in German were translated into English and published as one volume, Grittli's Children: A Story of Switzerland in Other works followed in the s and s: Her last work, The Stauffer Mill , was published in Berlin in Probably lamenting the recent loss of her loved ones, Spyri moved to a new home at Zeltweg 9, near the capital city's municipal theater, in Within years, she became an invalid, but kept gracing the world with her stories until her death on July 7, Johanna Spyri lives on, however, through her life's work.
According to literary critic Anne Thaxter Eaton: Indeed, Spyri changed the course of children's literature. She stated that she wrote not only for children, but for those who love children. During her latter years in Zurich, Spyri associated with C. Meyer and other intellectuals who did not believe in "talking down" to children in stories.