I’ve watched at least two Heidi movies so wasn’t sure if the novel would hold my interest since I already knew what was going to happen. The good news it that the book was an enjoyable read, and I didn’t always know what would come next, for the movie versions don’t tell the entire story.
In 1881 Swiss author Johanna Spyri’s most famous story was published in the German language as two novels. Later translated versions combined the two parts into one book.
The reader first meets Heidi when she is five years old, and being taken up a Swiss mountain by her Aunt Dete. Both of Heidi’s parents had died when she was a baby, and she’d been raised by her maternal grandmother and aunt. After the recent death of the grandmother Dete had been offered a job as a servant in Frankfurt, Germany. Dete was not one to let other people’s wants or needs stand in her way, so she was taking Heidi to live with the child’s gruff and reclusive paternal grandfather.
At first the grandfather, known locally as Alm-Uncle, wasn’t pleased with the sudden need to be responsible for his granddaughter, but he was impressed by Heidi’s curiosity and eagerness to learn about all that was new to her. By the end of the first day he had accepted his new charge, and took pains to assure the girl’s comfort and safety.
Heidi was delighted with her new life. Her grandmother had been nearly deaf and always chilled, so the child had been obliged to stay inside next to the heating stove, though she’d longed to be out of doors. The sights and sounds of nature filled the child with unimagined joy, and the author is able to convey Heidi’s wonder at the beauty around her.
Each day Grandfather’s two goats were put in charge of Peter, who took all of the local goats to graze. Heidi was sent out to help Peter, and the two children became friends, though I suspect that was because they were the only two young people living on the mountain.
Peter lived with his widowed mother and blind grandmother in a rundown cottage. He had no interest in trying to repair his home and, though sent to the village school each winter, he’d decided early on he was incapable of learning, and put no effort into proving himself wrong. Sigh – Peter the goatherd turns out to be a dud of a best friend.
Fortunately Heidi became a true friend to all she met on her beautiful Swiss mountain. She visits Peter’s grandmother, and volunteers her grandfather to perform needed house repairs. Gruff Alm-Uncle had no interest in being neighborly, but he dutifully repaired Peter’s home, though he refused to go inside and accept thanks. (Readers are told gossip about the grandfather’s distain for most people, but his past remains a mystery.)
For three years Heidi loves her life with her grandfather, his goats, and mountain home. For a time the only trouble is that Alm-Uncle refuses to send her to school, which concerns the village officials.
The real trouble begins when Aunt Dete makes another appearance. Through her job in Frankfort she learns of a wealthy businessman named Herr Sesemann who was in search of a companion for his crippled and motherless daughter. An older and refined city girl was wanted but, as I stated earlier, Dete is not interested in what is best for others if she gets an idea in her head.
She tells Alm-Uncle she wants to take Heidi away, and if he goes to court over the matter his past misdeeds would be brought to light. The grandfather storms out of his house in a rage.
At first Heidi refuses to go with Dete, but her aunt gives the impression that Frankfurt is just a short distance away, and that Heidi can come home if she decides she doesn’t want to stay with the wealthy family. The eight-year-old child leaves her home, not knowing she is going to a large city in a foreign country.
Since Herr Sesemann was away on business Dete presents Heidi to the housekeeper, Fraulein Rottenmeier, who apparently thought her mission in life was to be rude to everyone who wasn’t her employer. The housekeeper takes an immediate dislike to Heidi, especially after Dete basically abandons the child to the care of hostile strangers.
Though Clara Sesemann is pleased with Heidi as her new companion, she is the only one happy about the new arrangement. Heidi feels like a prisoner in Frankfurt, and longs for a glimpse of grass or trees amongst houses surrounded by stone streets. She can’t go home, and must obey endless rules that make no sense to her.
Fraulein Rottenmeier is constantly shocked by Heidi’s outrageous behavior (horrors – she talks to a servant as if he were a friend) and sets out to bend the miserably unhappy girl to her will.
It takes Herr Sesemann being summoned home with tales of his house being haunted by a ghost, plus a consultation with the family doctor, for wiser heads to decide Heidi can’t survive in the city, and must be returned to her beloved Swiss mountain.
Her joyous homecoming is the end of the first part of the story, but there are more adventures in store for Heidi.
Back in Frankfurt two people are suffering. Clara’s health declines rapidly, and the family doctor experiences a tragedy that he seems unable to overcome. In both cases a visit with Heidi, plus good mountain air, may be the only way to bring about a cure.
Even after those good people are on the road to recovery there is the pesky problem of Heidi’s grandfather, Alm-Uncle, saying it is too dangerous for Heidi to travel up and down the mountain in order to attend school during the winter months.
One solution would be for Heidi and her grandfather to live in the village during the winter, but Alm-Uncle hates to be around people, and the villagers have no warm-and-fuzzy feelings towards Alm-Uncle…
Heidi is a book that kept me up way too late, for I wanted to read just one more chapter. There were a couple places where I found the story a bit too talky, but most of the time I enjoyed my visit with spunky Heidi.
If you’d like to read this novel it can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1448/pg1448.html