swissworld: Swiss literature

Swissworld: Swiss literature

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Get immersed in the world of Swiss literature, from Heidi to Benjamin Constant.

German speaking authors
The most famous Swiss literary creation is undoubtedly Heidi, who, as the main character of one of the most popular children's books ever, has come to be a symbol of Switzerland. Her creator, Johanna Spyri (1827–1901), wrote a number of other books around similar themes, most of which have now been forgotten.

The classics of Swiss German literature include the pastor and writer Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854), who depicted farming life in the Emmental. Middle-class life in the 19th century was portrayed by short-story writer and novelist Gottfried Keller (1819-1890), who opposed the idea of a Swiss national literature, insisting that every writer should remain within his own language community. He regarded his own works as belonging to German literature.

In the early part of the 20th century, Robert Walser (1878-1956) was a pioneering modernist writer, and yet his name was and is often obscured by his contemporaries Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka and Robert Musil. swissworld: Swiss literatureFor his part, German-born Hesse (1877–1962), whose works include Siddartha, Narziss and Goldmund, Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game, became a Swiss citizen in 1923. And in 1919, it was a Swiss who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature – Carl Spitteler (1845–1924). Olympischer Frühling (Olympic Spring) is the title of his epic work, consisting of five volumes.

The undisputed giants of 20th century Swiss literature are Max Frisch (1911–91), whose works include Homo Faber, Biedermann und die Brandstifter (The Fireraisers), and Stiller (I'm Not Stiller), and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90), whose repertoire includes Die Physiker (The Physicists) and Das Versprechen (The Promise), released in 2001 as a Hollywood film.

French-speaking authors
A number of important French-speaking writers of the 18th and early 19th century were Swiss. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was born in Geneva (which was not at the time part of Switzerland). Germaine de Stael (1766–1817), although born and brought up in Paris, came from a Genevan family, and moved to Switzerland when exiled by Napoleon. Her lover and fellow-author, Benjamin Constant (1767–1830), was born in Lausanne.

In more recent times, French-speaking authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947), most of whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh but beautiful landscape. He is known for his poetical use of language.

Blaise Cendrars (born Frédéric Sauser, 1887–1961) is another well-known French-speaking Swiss writer, although he spent so much time abroad that references to Cendrars and his works often neglect to mention his birthplace. In 1910 he settled in Paris and became a French citizen.


Reprinted with permission of © Presence Switzerland.

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