Johanna Spyri Biography


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Johanna Heussel Spyri spent her entire life within a few miles of Zurich, Switzerland. The details of her youth have been preserved in an account by her childhood playmate, Anna Ulrich, entitled Recollections of Johanna Spyri's Childhood (1925). Far less is known about her adult life. Not only have her personal papers and manuscripts been lost over the years, but she was said to be a deeply private woman who shunned public attention and considered the influence of her books more important than the details of her life. Her friends respected her wish for privacy by revealing little about her adult life.

Born in the village of Herzel, seven miles from Zurich, on June 12, 1827, Spyri was named Johanna after her father, Dr. Johann Jakob Heussel, a local physician. The family maintained a home of culture and activity, and Spyri's mother was a gifted poet and songwriter. The family enjoyed acting out charades together, and the children were required to write little verses, which they turned in to their father every Sunday night. Spyri enjoyed these writing projects and even wrote extra verses for her younger siblings. Besides her large family—Spyri was the fourth of six children—her home included her grandmother, two aunts, two female cousins, and sometimes even a few of the doctor's patients.

From all accounts, the young Spyri was just like Heidi, even sharing the same grey eyes and brown hair. "Hanneli" or "Hanni," as her family called her, enjoyed nature, frolicking out-of-doors, creative drama, storytelling, and music more than she liked academics. She studied with the pastor at the village school. Although lively and witty and a clever mimic, she lacked the talent in drawing thought essential for young ladies of her time. Her friend Anna Ulrich noted that...

(The entire section is 732 words.)