2 Jan 2015

Consequential Classics: Heidi by Johanna Spyri


Consequential Classics is a feature where I discuss a classic that I've read recently. Feel free to share your thoughts below!

I'll keep this short, because I really wouldn't have anything new to say about a book published 135 years ago. Like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, Heidi is one of those classics that seem to be required reading for little girls. While I was a fan of Anne of Green Gables and Little Women growing up, Heidi was one of those books that I had heard of but never bothered reading - and what a shame! It's such a gorgeous little story. Like many children's books of the time, it's a little preachy and overflowing with moral goodness. Aside from the fact that PETER IS RUBBISH, I found it to be a really enjoyable read.

Okay, so just let me just get this off my chest: Peter is an awful, nasty piece of work. I snuck a look at a few reviews before I started reading Heidi, and thought 'he can't be that bad, surely.' I even have a love of controversial characters who are deemed unlikeable - Emma Woodhouse and Amy March being the first two examples that come to mind. Peter is selfish, and gets incredibly jealous if any other person dares to take up Heidi's time. He is greedy and obstinate and will only do things if threatened. In short, I found him unlikeable and found myself glaring at any page he appeared on.

The story: Heidi is orphaned at a young age, and sent to live with her aunt Detie (who is almost as selfish and awful as Peter). After Detie is offered a job in Frankfurt, she dumps Heidi onto her Uncle Alp, Heidi's grandfather. This causes a bit of worry in the village, because Uncle Alp hates everyone and everything, and moved to the mountains in order to avoid everyone. But under Uncle Alp's care, Heidi flourishes. She adores living in the mountains with her grandfather, and her curiosity and active nature means that she is always occupied. With Heidi for company, Uncle Alp also softens a little - but that makes the blow all the worse when Detie shows up two years later and takes Heidi away to the Sesemann family in Frankfurt, to be a companion for Clara Sesemann, a twelve-year-old invalid.

Heidi, like Anne Shirley, is universally loved. She is a ball of sunshine, casting light into the lives of other characters. The only characters who don't like her are Miss Rottenmeier, the Sesemann's housekeeper, and Tinette, the snooty maid, both of whom view Heidi as somewhat of a country bumpkin. Nevertheless: it is hard to imagine a child who is entirely selfless and has little interest in being anything else. The scrapes that she gets into are endearing and amusing, rather than exasperating and frustrating. I think my favourite character would have to be Sebastian, the butler who befriended Heidi. Their friendship was adorable!

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