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Literature / Heidi

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Heidi, published 1880 in two parts named in full Heidi's Years of Learning and Travelnote  and Heidi Makes Use of What She has Learnednote , is a novel by Swiss author Johanna Spyri.

Heidi, defined by its author as a book "for children and those who love children", quickly became a classic of Children's Literature and is still one of the world's most popular books for children. Possibly it is also the internationally best known work of Swiss literature.

The novel's eponymous heroine is an orphaned Swiss girl who, at the age of five and out of necessity, is given by her Aunt Dete into the care of her grumpy grandfather, who lives as a recluse in the Swiss Alps. The grandfather, an embittered man commonly known as the Alp-Öhi, is not at all happy about this, but eventually Heidi's blithe spirit thaws the old man's heart. But the happiness of the two is not to last, when Aunt Dete, having found employment in Frankfurt, returns to take Heidi with her to the city.

In Frankfurt, Heidi pines for the Alps, but she also finds a friend in Klara, the delicate daughter of Aunt Dete's employer, Herr Sesemann. When Heidi's health begins to suffer, she and Klara both return to the mountains, where clean air, sunshine, and friendship work a minor miracle.

The book spawned four sequels written decades later by Spyri's translator Charles Tritten, Heidi Grows Up, Heidi's Children and two that haven't been translated to English.

See the Derivative Works page for a list of adaptations.

The novels contain examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Sebastian's general attitude at Heidi's Innocently Insensitive Fish out of Water moments. Fräulein Rottenmeier is horrified at Heidi's "lack of manners," but Sebastian is clearly struggling not to laugh out loud.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: In the Great Illustrated Classics version, Peter doesn't destroy Klara's wheelchair, and she learns to walk by herself.
  • Appetite Equals Health: The invalid Clara never enjoyed her meals in her huge Frankfurt house much, rich and well-made as they were. Being pampered like a doll while unable to walk didn't help her self esteem or appetite. After going to the mountains with Heidi and getting some fresh air and simple, hearty food, her spirits are raised. The discovery that she had taken a second helping of toasted cheese is treated as a momentous event.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Sesemann rails against Dr. Classen's advice that Heidi be sent back to the mountains in her current state of poor health and begs him to cure her illness first, Dr. Classen immediately shuts him down with one of these.
    Dr. Classen: Sesemann, you would not have her return to her grandfather incurably ill, or return no more?
  • Big Eater: Peter the goatherd. Actually, everyone who arrives or visits the Alps discover that they become Big Eaters — even Klara, who barely ate at all back in Frankfurt — which is explained as the effect of the mountain air. Peter is still the biggest eater, though; he's always hungry and never turns down food.
  • Boarding School: Heidi goes away to a girls finishing school in Heidi Grows Up as the Dorfli school master is cruel and a terrible teacher. Although she doesn't get as ill as she does going away in the first book, she chooses to return to Dorfli after she's done rather than going onto Paris to study with Klara.
  • Book Dumb: Peter can't read and is convinced that it's very hard and beyond what he's capable to learn. But Heidi teaches him when she returns from Frankfurt so that he can read to his grandmother when the girl is unable to pay her a visit.
  • Character Development: Several characters throughout the first book and into the sequels. The Alm Uncle becomes much friendlier and more cheerful thanks to Heidi's influence, Peter matures and is less selfish and Heidi herself becomes less naive.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Alm Uncle after his character development and the Doctor, a family friend of Klara's.
  • Cool Old Lady:
    • Klara's grandmother, so much. She's young in spirit and everybody respects her. She's wonderful to Klara and Heidi.
    • Peter's grandmother is a sweet old lady.
  • Country Mouse: Heidi doesn't like the life in the city at all and misses her dear mountains.
  • Cute Kitten: Heidi and Klara like them and probably Sebastian too. Fräulein Rottenmeier, on the other hand, can't stand them.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Why the Alm Uncle originally secluded himself on the mountain is an ongoing mystery.
    • The original book hints that while serving in the army he nursed a close friend and officer who died under his care which left him heartbroken.
    • Then Heidi's Children establishes that also during his time as a soldier and presumably after his friend's death, he fell in love with and married a wealthy young woman and proceeded to bankrupt his (now deceased) parents and himself trying to please her. The couple separated, taking a son each, and he returned to Dorfli. Despite gossip he settled fairly happily, but a few years later his beloved son and daughter-in-law both died, Dete took their daughter and the village turned on him and said he deserved everything as punishment for what he'd done to his parents.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Everyone Calls Him "Alm-Uncle" or "Alp-Öhi" in the original German. We never learn his real name. Same with Peter's grandmother (who is only ever called "grandmother") and Klara's grandmother ("Grandmamma").
  • Fish out of Water: Heidi when she is forced to move to Frankfurt and become Klara's playmate. Her lack of experience with city life cause several mishaps.
  • Food Porn: Heidi's diet of milk, bread and toasted yellow cheese, which she thrives on. As one writer put it, "raclette is essentially the book's protagonist."
  • Good Shepherd: The pastor talks with Heidi's grandfather because he's worried about his grumpiness, espacilly since her education would suffer when she grows up isolated. When the misanthropic Alm-Uncle later gets better and decides to spend the winters in the village next to the pastor's house again, he has no problem forgiving him his rude behavior and welcomes his neighbor.
  • Gossipy Hens: The village below the mountain is full of these. Especially on the matter of Heidi's grandfather and the myriad possible reasons for his seclusion. In some versions of the book, one of the village women (Elisabeth) even talks to Dete on their way up there so Dete can become Ms. Exposition and explain Heidi's backstory.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Peter smashes Klara's wheelchair on purpose, pretty much just because he's jealous of another playmate taking all of Heidi's time. His conscience and fear of being caught catches up to him, though.
    • Klara shows jealousy (at first) because Heidi can walk.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Grandfather. He gets better thanks to Heidi's influence.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Klara in the original book. Heidi in the sequels, although she's described as having black, curly hair in the original.
  • Happily Adopted: Marta, the younger sister of Heidi's friend Jamy, who comes to live with Heidi in Heidi's Children. Her parents can't deal with her but she quickly settles into a home "surrounded by love", refuses to even visit her parents for years and the book ends with Heidi admitting she will always think of Marta as one of her children.
    • Chel, a wild, orphaned boy who is adopted by the good doctor in Heidi Grows Up.
  • Happily Married: Heidi's parents, Adelheidi and Tobias; according to village gossip Adelheidi died of shock and grief when he was killed. In the sequels, Heidi and Peter.
  • Haughty Help: When Heidi is sent to live with the Sesemann family, she is treated with contempt only by Miss Rottenmeier, the snooty and strict housekeeper.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Heidi doesn't let the fact her parents have died and her aunt abandoned her get her down. In the sequels, Chel initially subverts this as he's wild and hated by the villagers, but is revealed to be this once he exposes his kind, gentle side and Dorfli stops misjudging him.
  • Heroic BSoD: Heidi goes into these more and more as she can't adapt to city life, to the point of starting to sleepwalk.
  • In Harmony with Nature: Alm-Uncle has many elements of this (with the comeuppance that he is not a people person). Heidi manages to live in harmony with the goats and charm everyone around her. She also suffers in city environments.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Heidi, on occasion, will insult people or say things that upset them, but it's purely out of innocent ignorance. It's especially prominent in Frankfurt, where she's a total Fish out of Water, and Fräulein Rottenmeier has this tendency to just expect her to know what not to do or say without ever thinking to explain to the girl why she shouldn't do or say those things. Heidi's intentions are never anything but the very best, though, and luckily her earnestness tends to charm people more often than upset or insult them.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Klara, the ill girl. Doubly so because she learns to walk at the end.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Fraulein Rottenmeier isn't exactly the nicest governess in children's literature, especially how she reprimands Heidi for her mannerisms, but she does have a good point to make at times.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Grandfather is revealed to be this after Heidi comes to live with him.
    • Peter is selfish, temperamental and lazy, but at the end of the day he's not a bad person.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • While not a horrible person per se, Aunt Dete gets two instances of this: first when she forces her niece to live with an old man everybody believes is insane and possibly dangerous just so she has time to further her career, and secondly a few years later when she then drags off the same niece, unwillingly, to do a job she doesn't want in a city she doesn't want to live in. Dete also suggests to Alm-Uncle the chance that Klara (whom the audience has not yet met) will die and then Heidi will be adopted by Klara's father. She looks forward to the prospect with distinct pleasure because it will work out better for her.
    • Fräulein Rottenmeier's treatment of the kittens and her abusive behavior towards Heidi is horrible. Dete didn't relish on her own behavior, unlike her.
  • Last-Name Basis: We never learn Miss Rottenmeier or Mr. Sesemann's first names.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Klara. In the sequels, Jamy - Heidi's school friend - and her little sister Marta, whose parents have no interest in their children and push them off to their grandmother, who later passes away.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Until Heidi comes in...
  • Long-Lost Relative: A complicated version. In Heidi's Children, Jamy and Marta turn out to be Heidi's cousins. Their grandmother was married to Heidi's grandfather but the couple separated under difficult circumstances, the Alm Uncle taking their older son Tobias (Heidi's father) and the grandmother taking the younger son (Jamy and Marta's father). Guess it's just lucky Heidi and Jamy ended up attending the same school.
  • Lovable Coward: Though Sebastian tells himself he's not afraid at all, he is very easy to spook, and more likely to run away from things that frighten him than stay and face them. He's still one of the more sympathetic characters in the book.
  • Lying on a Hillside: Heidi and Peter do this daily when they go up onto the mountainside.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: The implied reason for Grandfather's long years of seclusion up a mountain.
  • Matron Chaperone: Fräulein Rottenmeier's role seems to be preventing Heidi from having too much influence on Klara.
  • Meaningful Name: Is it any wonder that someone with the name 'Rottenmeier' isn't such a nice person?
  • Memento MacGuffin: The broken half cross necklace Jamy and Marta inherit from their grandmother. It turns out that Heidi's grandfather has the other half because he used to be married to Jamy's grandmother and broke it when they separated under painful circumstances. Which makes Jamy, Marta and Heidi cousins.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Grandfather.
  • Morality Pet: Heidi seems to have this effect on her grandfather.
  • Never Learned to Read: Heidi grows to be nine years old without getting any kind of education. She quickly learns to read and write in Frankfurt thanks to Klara's tutor and Grandmama.
  • Nice Girl: Heidi and Klara. Jamy (Heidi's school friend) in the sequels.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Heidi's real name is Adelheid, like her mother. Everyone who cares the slightest bit about her calls her Heidi.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Heidi's grandfather has outlived his son, her father.
    • Klara's doctor loses his own daughter, but finds comfort in his Intergenerational Friendship with Heidi while visiting the alps.
  • Parental Abandonment: Quite a bit.
    • Heidi: Her father Tobias died in a work accident, which was the last straw for Grandfather and prompted him to live in the mountain. Later, his wife Adelheid dies of illness, and Adelheid's sister Dete acts as a Parental Substitute until she dumps Heidi on the old man.
    • Peter: His father is never mentioned, so he lives with his mother and his blind grandmother.
    • Klara: Her mother died and her dad is always out in business so she's taken care of by Rottenmeier and Sebastian, and sometimes by her grandmother.
  • Parental Neglect: Jamy and Marta's wealthy parents barely pay attention to them and they're raised by their grandmother.
  • Parental Substitute: In Heidi Grows Up, the doctor, Heidi's godfather, takes in and later formally adopts Chel, an orphaned village boy.
  • Parents as People: Mr. Sesemann does love his girl, but can't be with her as much as he likes.
  • Pet the Dog: Grandfather gets more and more moments like this as time goes by. Fixing Peter's grandmother's rickety shack for the sake of it was just the start.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Heidi is often seen going barefoot, and only wears shoes when she absolutely has to. Peter can be this way as well.
  • Puppy Love: In-Universe with Heidi and Peter. Aww. They do, in fact, get married in the sequel by Charles Tritten.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Heidi, as her parents died when she was a baby and her aunt Dete dumps her on the Alm Uncle's door. (He does an amazingly good job and in the sequels Heidi tells him he's been her mother, father and grandparent all in one.) Jamy and her sister Marta are virtually raised by their grandmother — although they have living parents, they're too concerned with society and parties to pay attention to their daughters.In a twist, it turns out the Alm Uncle and the grandmother were married, meaning the pair actually raised all three of their grandchildren between them.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • Averted by Klara and pretty much the entire Sesemann family, who are rich but pretty nice. Their head housekeeper, on the other hand, is not.
    • Dete tries at this: Even though she's only ever a maid to rich families not wealthy herself she likes returning to Dorfli to show off her new clothes.
    • Jamy and Marta's mother is implied to be this, as she admits she was more interested in throwing parties and buying clothes than her own daughters.
  • Sadistic Teacher: The original school master who beats students and even locked them in his "dungeon." It takes Heidi a while to win back the villagers and children and restart the school.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: This is the tactic employed by Heidi (and to a lesser extent her grandfather) in order to motivate Peter to learn to read — she tells him about the horrible schools in Frankfurt and that he'll have to go there unless he learns... and then follows up with teaching him the letters through a series of verses that warns of the terrible things that'll happen to him if he doesn't learn. It works, to the extent that he does learn to read, but the weakness of the tactic becomes apparent when it's made clear that he still hates doing it and tends to skip words that look like they'll be too difficult.
  • Scenery Porn: The Alps.
  • Schoolmarm: In the sequel Heidi and later Jamy, take over teaching and running the small village school.
  • Servile Snarker: Both Sebastian, the butler and Tinette, the maid, have their moments. Sebastian, who's generally good-natured and has a sense of humor about himself, is played a lot more sympathetically than Tinette, who is more haughty and impatient.
  • Sleepwalking: During her stay in Frankfurt, Heidi misses her home in the Alps so much that it causes nightmares, and eventually this. Fräulein Rottenmeier and Sebastian initially mistake her wanderings for a ghost.
  • Spell My Name With An S: In some editions, "Detie" instead of "Dete" and "Clara" instead of "Klara" are used.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Klara, who comes from a very rich family, but is also very polite and friendly. The only times she shows genuine selfishness is when she insists that Heidi stay in Frankfurt permanently, despite how clearly miserable her friend is without her beloved Alps.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Klara.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Tomboy Heidi likes playing with the goats and being outdoors, snuck in some kittens and a turtle into the Sessemann house, and asked quite a few impertinent questions. Girly Girl Klara was always prim and proper- and had to be motivated to go outdoors and try to walk again.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Peter starts out as rather sulky and bitter, but becomes much more selfless and hardworking as well as kinder and friendlier, and in the two sequels, he proves himself to be a wonderful husband (to Heidi) and father (to their children).
  • Unnamed Parent: Mr. Sesemann, Klara's father. There are also two unnamed grandparents: Klara's grandmother and Peter's grandmother.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born:Heidi and Peter have children in the third book, with Heidi ultimately giving birth to a pair of boy-girl fraternal twins.
  • Yodel Land

Various adaptations contain examples of:

  • Abled in the Adaptation: Not abled, per se, but in the 1937 and 1968 films, Klara uses a wheelchair due to a past injury (in the '68 version from the same boating accident that killed her mother) instead of illness, and it's only fear and doubt (encouraged in the '37 version by an especially villainous Fräulein Rottenmeier) that keep her from trying to walk again until Heidi helps her.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: The 1968 and 1993 movie adaptations make Spoiled Sweet Klara seem like a Spoiled Brat who uses her disability, not necessarily as a reason to be a pain, but certainly as a way to get attention and/or pity, as well as to manipulate any given situation. By the end she gets better, though.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • The animated adaptations tend to soften Peter up quite a bit, making him more of an out-and-out Nice Guy or at least toning down his Jerkass moments.
    • The 1968 film softens Fräulein Rottenmeier (in sharp contrast to the Shirley Temple version - see below) and ultimately has her Promoted to Love Interest with Klara's father.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Fräulein Rottenmeier in the book is an antagonist due to her strictness, humorlessness, and being an altogether stick-in-the-mud. However, there's no hint of ulterior motives, and she genuinely wants the best (as she sees it) for Klara and the family. In the Shirley Temple version, Rottenmeier wants Klara's disability to linger so she can keep a permanent position with the family (completely irrelevant in the original, where Rottenmeier was always housekeeper and Klara suffers from never having been able to walk). She also tries to sell Heidi to the Romani out of spite.
    • In the Shirley Temple version, Aunt Dete becomes a villain who actively hates Heidi, stealing her away from her grandfather, and telling Fräulein Rottenmeier she could sell her to the Roma if she so desires.
    • Dete gets the villain treatment in the 2005 Nelvana animated movie. While she doesn't hate Heidi per se, she doesn't have much patience for her either and very blatantly only cares about what money she can get out of the Sesemanns. Towards the end of the movie, she even tries to break into Grandfather's house and steal the money Mr. Sesemann sent with Heidi.
  • Composite Character:
    • In the 1968 TV movie, Miss Rottenmeier is essentially Miss Rottenmeier in appearance, but Klara's grandmother in personality, to the point where she even becomes a surrogate mother to both Heidi and Klara.note 
    • Interestingly enough, the 2005 Nelvana animated movie combines a few of the goats. In the book, Grandfather has two goats, the white Little Swan and the brown Little Bear; and in the flock Peter watches two of the most mentioned goats are the grouchy and quarrelsome Great Turk and the lively, mischievous Greenfinch. In the movie, we don't see Little Bear or Greenfinch, but Little Swan is brown, and Turk seems to belong to Grandfather and is a lively and mischievous goat.
  • Cool Old Lady:
    • In the 1993 film adaptation, Peter's grandmother is a Blind Seer who helps Heidi learn to stick up for what she wants.
    • In the 2005 animated movie, she's far stronger and more independent than in the books, and somwehat of a dispenser of wisdom. When Heidi worries that her grandfather may never warm up to her, it's Peter's grandmother who reassures her that he will.
    "Old folks like like me and your grandfather get stuck in our ways. We don't like change. He just needs to get used to the idea of you being around."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Why the Alm Uncle originally secluded himself on the mountain is an ongoing mystery. In the 1993 film, he blames himself for his son and daughter-in-law's deaths: they were leaving the mountains after an argument with him, when they were killed by a falling tree.
  • Death by Adaptation: Peter's blind grandmother in the 1993 miniseries.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: In most adaptations, Herr Sesemann and Fräulein Rottenmeier react to Klara like this. Her grandmother on the other hand is aware of Klara's fragility but doesn't buy the helplessness angle.
  • Eyes Always Closed: Peter's grandmother in the 2005 animated movie, to illustrate her blindness.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: In the 1993 film, Fräulein Rottenmeier is portrayed by Jane Seymour, who in real life is a very classy, polite lady.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Alm-Uncle is named in at least two adaptations — the 1993 film gives us a first name of Tobias. The 1937 version with Shirley Temple calls him Adolph.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Klara does this in the 1993 film. Not only is she in a wheelchair, but she appears to have fragile lungs. This can cause her to experience what look like severe asthma attacks, which then causes Fräulein Rottenmeier and the servants to rush to get her a breathing treatment. Even when these attacks are real, the servants and family (except Grandma) treat them as catastrophic and give in to Klara whenever it looks like she's having one. Klara catches on; from that point, it's hard to tell what's real and what isn't because she conveniently starts breathing heavily whenever Heidi or someone else mentions leaving.
  • Plot Allergy: In the 1968, 1993 and 2015 films, Fräulein Rottenmeier appears severely allergic to the kittens (and animals in general in the '93 version; she sneezes like crazy when she encounters mountain goats in the second half).
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the 1968 version, Herr Sesemann and Klara are Heidi's uncle and cousin.
  • Religious Edutainment: Well, not really, but the 1968 TV movie has enough religious referencesnote  that it occasionally appears on religious based TV networks and stationsnote 
  • Rich Bitch: In the 1968 and 1993 adaptations, Klara shows shades of being a Rich Bitch, but gets over it pretty quickly.
  • Setting Update: The original novel was set in the 1880s, but some of the adaptations take place much later.
    • The 2001 movie is set in the early 2000s and takes a number of liberties with the story, such as Aunt Dete being a fashion designer and Clara's mother, Clara being a Berlin brat who was kicked out of her boarding school, and Peter using crowdfunding to raise money for Heidi to return to her grandfather.
    • The 2005 animated movie sticks closer to the classic story, but uis clearly set a few decades later than the books. The year is never said, but judging the number of cars we see driving around the streets of Frankfurt (and the truck Dete gets a hike with when returning to the Alps) it can't be set much earlier than the 1920s.
    • Mad Heidi is a bit of an Anachronism Stew; the society presented here is mostly a Swiss parody of Nazi Germany, but with several aspects of 1950s America and some modern-day touches.