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Heidi - Switzerland's most popular children's story
Heidi: a book for children and those who love children
Heidi is a beautiful story of a young, orphaned Swiss girl. At the age of five she is left by her aunt in the care of her reclusive, widowed grandfather. Her grandfather lives in an isolated cabin in the Swiss Alps. He has a bitter past and has not spoken to the local villagers for years. He is named Alm Uncle (or Uncle Alp in some versions), because he stays exclusively on the mountain.
Despite Alm Uncle's harsh exterior, Heidi and her grandfather soon form a close bond together. Being an affectionate, loving child she soon makes friends with those around her. She makes particular friends with a boy called Peter, a local goat herd.She also enjoys a close affection for Peter's blind grandmother, she calls "granny". Later, Heidi successfully persuades her anti-social grandfather, a skilled carpenter, to assist with some much needed repairs to Peter's delapidated cottage.
After enjoying an idyllic two years on the mountain with her grandfather, Heidi's aunt takes her away to leave in the city. She is to be the companion to an invalid girl called Klara (or Clara in some versions of the novel). Klara comes from a wealthy family. Her mother is dead, and her father, although very loving, is often away attending to business dealings. So Klara is looked after by a rather officious and stern housekeeper and the household servants.
Heidi and Klara soon form a close friendship and have many scrapes and adventures. The city is in stark contrast to the natural setting of the alps. To Heidi's eyes, there are no trees or gardens, only buildings. Progress, and modern technology are coming to the urbanised world, however, Heidi's home in the alps is still isolated from technological advancements.
Throughout the novel, Heidi cares about others. Knowing that "granny" (her friend Peter's blind grandmother) has trouble eating and can only afford hard, stale bread, Heidi hoards the soft, fresh white rolls that are available in her new home. She wants to take them back to granny.
Heidi is also taught to read by Klara's kindly grandmother.
However, Heidi is not happy in the city. She is unused to being in a large home and to the manners of wealthy society. She becomes desperately homesick. Finally on the advice of Klara's doctor, Klara's father agrees to send her back to her grandfather and the mountains.
Back on the mountain again, Heidi renews her friendships. She is now happily able to read to Peter's blind grandmother. A source of great joy for them both. She also encourages her grandfather to again be social, even persuading him to move down to the village during the Wintertime so that Heidi may attend school. Her grandfather is accepted back into the village and the church community. He gradually becomes happier within himself.
Towards the end of the novel, Klara comes to visit Heidi on the mountain. Klara's stay on the mountain, and exposure to healthy "air" and wholesome food, enable her to learn to walk. By the end of the novel, Heidi's naturally sunny and positive disposition and her gentle friendship, help heal Klara and also her grandfather's bitterness.
Heidi was written by Johanna Spyri and published in 1880. The author said she wanted to write a book for children and for those who love children.
It has echoes of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "Secret Garden" another book that has been universally loved by children. "The Secret Garden" was published in 1911. It is the story of an orpahan girl, Mary, who is bought up by a reclusive and wealthy uncle. Mary's cousin Colin is an invalid. However, Mary inspires Colin to go outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. The power of the "growing things" renews Colin and he learns to walk. The process of Colin's healing also helps heal Mary's Uncle who is grieving over the death of his wife.
Apparently Heidi is the most popular novel for children in Switzerland. There are two sequels to the Heidi novel. However, they were not written by the original author. "Heidi Grows Up" and "Heidi's Children" were wrritten by Spryi's translater, Charles Tritten.
Spyri did what she set out to do. She wrote a book that will be loved by children and adults alike.
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