Born on 12 June 1827, Johanna Heusser was raised in Hirzel, a small village in Zurich, Switzerland. Her mother Meta Heusser-Schweizer wrote religious poetry and hymns, and agreed to have her works published on the condition that her identity wouldn’t be disclosed. In 1875, a selection of Alpine Lyrics by her was translated into English.
At 16, Johanna was sent to a residential school in Yverdon, western Switzerland. Later, she studied Modern Languages and Piano in Zurich.
In 1852, Johanna married a lawyer and journalist named Johann Bernhard Spyri. Her husband being a workaholic, their marriage suffered and gradually, Johanna sunk into depression. In 1884, tragedy struck when she lost her son, Bernhard—who was only 28—and her husband.
Encouraged by a family friend, Johanna began to write to overcome depression and published her first story ‘Ein Blatt auf Vronys Grab’ (A Leaf From Vrony’s Grave) in 1871. The success of her very first story fuelled her passion for writing, that she pursued diligently. Between 1871 and 1901, Johanna published 27 books and several volumes of stories for children and adults.
As a writer, she was concerned about the upbringing of children in 19th-century Europe. Instead of treating them as ‘imperfect’ adults, she wanted to present a child’s world as very different from an adult’s.
Heidi (1881), a novel that she wrote in four weeks, reflects the writer’s psychological insight into a child’s mind. A world classic, which has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, Heidi has been translated from German into 50 languages. Johanna Spyri died in Zurich on 7 July 1901.