Johanna Spyri

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Johanna Spyri
Signature Johanna Spyri.JPG

Johanna Spyri [ˈʃpiːri] , born Johanna Louise Heusser (born June 12, 1827 in Hirzel , Canton Zurich ; † July 7, 1901 in Zurich ) was a Swiss writer for children and young people . She is the creator of the well-known fictional character Heidi .


Spyri was the fourth of six children of the doctor Johann Jakob Heusser and the poet Meta Heusser-Schweizer . Her older brother Jakob Christian Heusser was a geologist and mineralogist, her niece Emilie Kempin-Spyri was the first to hold a doctorate in law.

She grew up in Hirzel, a village in the canton of Zurich on Zimmerberg above Lake Zurich . At the age of fifteen she moved to live with her aunt in Zurich, where she attended school. In the summer of 1844 she went to a boarding school in Yverdon for two years to learn French. She came back a year later and lived in Hirzel until 1852. She taught her younger siblings and helped the mother with the household.

In 1851 she got engaged to the Zurich lawyer and editor Bernhard Spyri (1821–1884), who was one of Richard Wagner's closest friends in Zurich. The wedding took place in 1852 in the Wollishofen church. The couple's first apartment was at Stadelhoferstrasse 22 in the Kleiner Fleckenhof .

Spyri's handwriting; Letter to mother
First edition of «Heidi»

In 1855 Spyri's only child, her son Bernhard Diethelm, was born. During pregnancy, Johanna fell into a deep depression that lasted for years. In September, the family moved to the Hirschengraben 10 house in the house at the Hirschli . Three years later, Bernhard Spyri acquired the Bremerhaus at Hirschengraben 6 . After his appointment as town clerk, the family moved to the town house on Kratzplatz in 1868 .

The Spyris marriage was not a happy one. Spyri found support in her deep friendship with Betsy Meyer, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's sister .

Bremen time

Spyri's mother was related to the Bremen Johann Wichelhausen († 1818); also friends through her husband with the Bremen lawyer Hans Heinrich Spöndlin (1812–1872) and the pastor of the Church of Our Lady Bremen Cornelius Rudolph Vietor (1814–1897). He was the first to encourage Johanna Spyri to write. She visited him in Bremen and Vietor often stayed in Zurich; and he gave his daughters to the Spyri family for a year. Pastor Vietor induced them to have some edifying stories printed and published in Bremen by the Hilgerloh and then CE Müller printers. Her first story, "Ein Blatt auf Vrony's Grab", was published in Bremen in 1871 and was a great success. It is the story of a woman who is abused by her alcoholic husband and who prays to accept her fate, as the pastor advised her. This was followed in Bremen by the stories “After the father's house”, “From earlier days”, “You haven't forgotten any” and “Lost and found”. The stories appeared under the pseudonym J.S. and were not particularly successful.

City clerk in Zurich

In 1875, "Frau Stadtschreiber Spyri" was appointed to the supervisory committee of the secondary school for girls in Zurich, where she worked until 1892.

Her first children's book “Heimathlos” contained the stories “Am Silser- und am Gardasee” and “How Wiseli's way is found” and was published in 1878 by FA Perthes in Gotha . Johanna Spyri was not named as the author, but “From the author of 'A sheet on Vrony's grave'”. For the first time on the cover there was the note “A story for children and also for those who love children”, which can be found on almost all Spyri's editions.

Success with «Heidi»

Heidi , reprint around 1920

Shortly before Christmas 1879, FA Perthes also published Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre , which immediately became a great success and enabled Johanna Spyri to have a very comfortable retirement. The second volume followed in 1881, Heidi Can Use What It Has Learned . «Heidi» has been translated into more than 50 languages. The book has been filmed several times. The assertion of the German scholar Peter Büttner (2010) that Johanna Spyri used the story “Adelaide, the girl from the Alps” (1830) by Hermann Adam von Kamp as a template for her “Heidi” books is controversial.

In April 1885 Spyri moved to Bahnhofstrasse 48, at the corner of Augustinergasse, for a year , then to the Escherhäuser at Zeltweg 9, where she lived until her death. During the last years of her life, she wrote and traveled extensively. She had regular friendly contact with Conrad Ferdinand Meyer . When she fell ill with cancer in 1901, she was treated by the first Swiss doctor, Marie Heim-Vögtlin .
Spyri was buried in the Sihlfeld cemetery in Zurich (grave number PG 81210).


  • Her husband Bernhard Spyri (born September 21, 1821, † December 19, 1884 in Zurich), son of Johann Bernhard Spyri from Amlikon , 1844 citizen of Hirzel, 1854 citizen of Zurich, was a lawyer, lawyer and editor of the Eidgenössische Zeitung . He was twice on the cantonal council and from 1859 to 1868 legal counsel for the city of Zurich.
  • Her son Bernhard Diethelm Spyri (born August 17, 1855 in Zurich; † May 3, 1884) studied law in Zurich, Leipzig and Göttingen Brother of his mother. In 1883/1884 he recovered on Lake Maggiore and in Pisa.
  • Her niece Emilie Kempin-Spyri (1853–1901) was the first Swiss woman to do her doctorate and habilitation as a lawyer in Switzerland . As a woman, she was not allowed to practice as a lawyer; she moved to New York , where she taught at a law school she founded for women.


In the thirty years from 1871 until her death, Spyri published 31 books, 27 volumes of short stories and 4 brochures, a total of 48 short stories. Your estate was first kept in the Swiss Institute for Children's and Youth Media (SIKJM) in Zurich; In September 2011, the more than 1,000 letters, manuscripts, notes and documents were transferred to the Zurich Central Library .

Many of her books and texts take a critical, not euphemistic look at Switzerland and the living conditions of the people during early industrialization . The fate of children and young women was particularly important to her. Your texts are therefore not only of literary but also socio-historical interest.

“The young writer Johanna Spyri died in Zurich at the age of 74. In her writings she only addressed those who enjoy art with naive faith, children and the people, and in this kingdom her passing means an extremely painful loss. As the ' N. Zürcher Ztg. ' Writes, Johanna Spyri stood out from the great water, one might almost say the deluge of youth literature of the past decades with her youth writings as high as Gottfried Keller over the great number of other poets of his time. A sensitive woman with a strong and deep religious feeling, she was protected from the start by her poetic nature against the treatment of substances that would not have been suitable for young people. Her pious eye, like her delicate pen, avoided the great conflicts and dark sides of life. In her numerous works she showed herself to be a skilful narrator with a genuinely poetic, painterly and plastic style, who had trained herself on the best samples, apparently also on Gottfried Keller. Some of her stories are real works of art in terms of content and form. In her great love of people she liked to go to the places of misery and poverty to comfort, but most of all she tried to reconcile rich and poor, to show how everyone depends on one another and therefore needs one another and therefore must help one another , the young for the old, the rich for the poor and vice versa. "

- Obituary in the New Vienna Journal of July 23, 1901
  • 1871: A sheet on Vrony's grave ( 4th edition Bremen anno 1883 online  - Internet Archive )
  • 1872: To the father's house!
  • 1873: From earlier days.
  • 1872: None of you forgot.
  • 1872: Lost and Found (From Life) (Narrative Volume)
  • 1878: Homeless. (with the stories on Lake Sils and Lake Garda and How Wiseli's path is found )
  • 1879: From near and far. (with the stories of Der Mutter Lied and Peppino, almost a robber story )
  • 1879: Lost, not forgotten. An experience, my good friends, the young girls
  • 1880: Heidi's apprenticeship and traveling years. Digitized and full text in the German text archive
  • 1880: In the Rhonethal
  • 1880: From our country. (with the stories at home and outside again and how it works in Waldhausen )
  • 1881: On Sunday
  • 1881: Heidi can use what she has learned.
  • 1881: Uncle Titus stayed in the country.
  • 1882: Short stories for children and also for those who love children. (with the stories at Beim Weiden-Joseph , Rosen-Resli , Der Toni von Kandergrund , And whoever has only God as a friend, he helps him in every way! and in a safe hat )
  • 1883: Two popular writings (with the texts Ein goldener Spruch and How someone got there where he didn't want to go )
  • 1883: Where Gritli's Children Gone . ++
  • 1884: Gritli's children get on. ++
  • ++ both books unabridged in one volume: Gritli's children . Droemersche Verlagsanstalt Th. Knaur Nachf., Munich / Zurich 1957.
  • 1885: From the life of a lawyer
  • 1886: Short stories for children and also for those who love children. Second volume. (with the stories Moni the goat boy , What the grandmother's teachings do , From This, which becomes something , Am Felsensprung and What Sami sings with the birds )
  • 1887: What should become of her? A story for young girls
  • 1888: Artur and Squirrel.
  • 1888: From the Swiss mountains. (with the stories In Hinterwald , Die Elfe von Intra and Vomrohlichen Heribli )
  • 1889: What became of her. A story for young girls. - rework later. by Charlotte Gottschalk: What became of Dori , Hoch-Verlag 1956
  • 1890: One from the Lesa house. A story for children and also for those who love children. (later also under the title Die Kinder vom Lesahof. The song of the mountain , and Part 2 of the original under Stefeli. Further fates of the children from Lesahof )
  • 1890: Cornelli is brought up (Gotha, Friedrich Andreas Perthes)
  • 1891: Folk writings by Johanna Spyri. Second volume. (with the texts In Leuchtensee and How it went with the Goldhalde )
  • 1892: Wildenstein Castle.
  • 1901: The Stauffer mill
  • What Sami sings with the birds , 9+, Schweizerisches Jugendschriftenwerk (SJW), booklet 78
  • Who has God as a friend , from 9 years, SJW-Heft 79
  • All for consolation , from 9 years, SJW booklet 80
  • Lauris disease , from 9 years, SJW-Heft 81/82
  • From this, which will become something , from 10 years, SJW booklet

Filming of their works

Feature films:


  • Marie Frey-Uhler: Johanna Spyri 1827–1901 , biography from 12 years SJW booklet
  • Jean Villain: The Written Sky , 1997
  • Regine Schindler: Johanna Spyri: Searching for traces. Pendo Verlag, Zurich 1997
  • Regine Schindler:  Spyri, Johanna. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 24, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-428-11205-0 , pp. 772 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Regine Schindler: Johanna Spyri (1827–1901). New discoveries and unknown letters. Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich 2015, ISBN 978-3-03823-361-9 .

Web links

Commons : Johanna Spyri  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Johanna Spyri  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Marianne Delfosse: Emilie Kempin-Spyri. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . December 2, 2008 , accessed May 2, 2020 .
  2. ^ Herbert Black Forest : The Great Bremen Lexicon . 2nd, updated, revised and expanded edition. Edition Temmen, Bremen 2003, ISBN 3-86108-693-X .
  3. Bestseller 1860–1909, Basel City Library
  4. The grave of Johanna Spyri
  5. Regine Schindler Johanna Sypri, search for clues.
  6. Tages Anzeiger of September 21, 2011, p. 19.
  7. Johanna Spyri †. In:  Neues Wiener Journal , July 23, 1901, p. 7 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / nwj
  8. The story was first published by H. Klein in Barmen ( DNB 576488364 ) and was taken over by Martin Warneck in Berlin in 1900 and published by him in several subsequent editions, most recently in 1913; DNB 363660801
  9. The title was published in 1901 with original drawings by Fritz Rüdiger, initially by Martin Warneck's publishing house in Berlin (edition 1 to 10 thousand), then in the following year (edition 11 to 22 thousand) and in 1909 (edition 23 to 25 thousand) and 1910 (Edition 26 to 28 thousand) and most recently by Warneck in 1913 (edition 29 to 31 thousand). In 1919 this title was taken over by the publishing house of FA Perthes AG in Gotha ( DNB 1016160062 ) according to Zwanzig Jahre Verlag Martin Warneck , 1920, p. 203 ( DNB 578223457 ).