Heidi and Adelaide, Girls of the Alps

I am unashamedly a big fan of Heidi, the 1881 book by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. I’ve read the book twice, and seen a number of different representations.

In 2010, German researcher Peter Büttner discovered an interesting story written 50 years before Heidi by German author Hermann Adam von Kamp. It is also about a girl who lives with her grandfather in the alps, until she moves away, gets homesick, and eventually returns. He suggests that Spyri may have been inspired by this older story.

This fascinated me, and I had to track down the original text! None of the news articles I found had a link to it, let alone one translated into English. I managed to find a PDF of the Public Domain work, so I took it upon myself to transcribe it into plain text, and put together an English translation:

A quick summary of the story of Adelaide:

Adelaide is a 10 year old girl living in the Alps with her grandfather. One day, a Dutch traveler overhears her singing, and gives her some money for being so nice. Later, Adelaide’s distant relative dies, leaving an inheritance for her family in America.

Adelaide’s grandfather dies, and Adelaide moves to the inherited land in America with her family.

Six years pass, and she never stops longing to return to her home in the Alps. One day she finds a painting of an Swiss landscape, and it turns out the owner is the Dutch traveler who had given her the money six year earlier. He offers to bring her back to Switzerland.

They go back to Switzerland, where Adelaide enjoys her life again, gets married to a shepherd, and lives happily ever after.

The stories definitely have similarities, not to mention that the name “Heidi” is short for “Adelheid,” which is suspiciously close to “Adelaide.”

But despite these similarities, the stories are still quite different. Even if Spyri had been inspired by von Kamp’s tale, I don’t think any scandalous plagarism happened, as some news articles I found tried to make it seem.

At their cores, both stories are about homesickness. It’s not just a theme tying the two stories together, though – years before these stories were written, homesickness had actually been referred to as “the Swiss Disease”. In fact, the term “nostalgia” was coined for a medical condition in 1688 by a student in Switzerland named Johannes Hofer to describe “the pain a sick person feels because he is not in his native land, or fears never to see it again.”

So even if Spyri hadn’t known about von Kamp’s work, the belief that Swiss people would become homesick being away from the Alps was widely known at the time. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch take that idea and apply it to an adorable girl taken away from her home in the mountains.

Either way, I’m glad this story was rediscovered! I think each story stands on its own. I personally find Heidi to be more enjoyable, but Adelaide has her own charm. And as a bonus, I found some interesting historical tidbits along the way!