Hesse, Hermann (Vol. 17)
Hermann Hesse 1877–1962
German-born Swiss novelist, poet, short story writer, editor, and critic.
In 1946 Hermann Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature; at that time, he was virtually unknown outside German-speaking countries. Today he is admired by the youth of several countries as he was by earlier generations of Germans. Students readily identify with his characters who struggle within a system which seeks to stifle individual creativity. Hesse wrote from his own experience. By the age of thirteen, he had decided to become a poet. When he went away to school, he soon learned there was no curriculum for would-be poets as there was for teachers, doctors, and scientists. His school novel Unterm Rad (Beneath the Wheel) represents Hesse's own rebellion against such a system. It depicts the educational institution as being fatal to the human spirit that does not conform.
All of Hesse's major novels are autobiographical in some way. Demian reflects Hesse's experience with psychoanalysis and his abhorrence of war. Siddhartha is the result of an extended visit to India where Hesse sought the peace of mind that he believed could be found in oriental religions. Hesse even gave his characters names that have his own initials, such as Harry Haller and H. H., or forms of his name, such as Hermine.
Within many of Hesse's works there is a theme of the conflict of spirit and flesh within the individual. Der Steppenwolf is perhaps the best example of this struggle, in which the animalistic urges of the intellectual Harry Haller strive for release. Music is a major influence in Harry's beginning awareness and acceptance of the opposing elements in man. Hesse himself was devoted to the violin, which he learned to play at an early age. For him, music could be a harmonious blending of the inner conflicts and tensions which he sought to resolve in his writing.
In Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game or Magister Ludi) Hesse treats nearly all of the themes present in his previous works. He contrasts the active world with the contemplative world and this time finds the world of the spirit lacking. There are critics who feel, however, that Das Glasperlenspiel is Hesse's slightest work, for here he deviates from his earlier effective portrayals of passionate youth.
In 1912 Hesse left Germany never to return. In 1923 he became a Swiss citizen. Hesse could not associate himself with the German militarism and chauvinism of the two world wars. Still, his books were read by the youth of Germany. Hesse's work finds sympathizers in all generations and nationalities because he addresses the theme of the individual's search for truth and personal identity. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18, and Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
Like every great artist [Hesse] has essentially but one theme, of which all his works are only maturing variations. Hesse's fundamental fable is the endless struggle of the individual for self-recognition and self-realization, and the resulting conflict with the equalizing forces, the temptations, and taboos of a given environment. (p. 355)
Hermann Hesse is neither a "realistic" nor a "symbolistic" writer, in the loose and hazy sense in which these terms are commonly applied, but it is his perfect integration of both spheres, of the real and the phantastic, the unbroken simultaneousness of the world without and the world within and their constant interplay that produce the "magic realism" (to give it a name) which is his rare achievement and the lure of his books and wherein lies his greatness as an artist. Contemplating the microcosmos of the human heart, he perceives the macrocosmos created in its image, and thus also are the characters that populate his books brought to life: from within, literally being part of their Creator, the blood and flesh images and projections of his encompassing self. (pp. 356-57)
None of his novels have what is called "social significance," they are concerned with the individual and his universal destiny, their underdog—being such by virtue of his character, not by economic deficiency—may be found in any stratum of society. In this and some other respects Hesse might be compared with...
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German dualism shows itself in the young Hesse in the serious struggle between mind and matter, spiritual and physical life. The young Hesse longs for the simple, the unsophisticated. His most famous fictitious character, Peter Camenzind, gladly gives up art to be a child of nature, living close to lake and mountain. Peter Camenzind, published in 1904, is, to a degree, autobiographical: Hesse has always lived in small villages hidden somewhere in the mountains. Autobiographical too is Hesse's next novel, Unterm Rad ("Under the Wheel"), the story of a theological student who breaks down under the strain of study. There is a rebellious spirit in these early novels, a revolt against oppression by parental and professional authority, against the soul-killing tutelage to which modern society subjects the individual. Other novels, like Gertrude (in English "Gertrude and I") and Rosshalde, mirror the rebellion of an artist, a musician, and a painter respectively against the fetters of unhappy marriage. The restless, thwarted German youth applauded; these novels were a call for Innerlichkeit [inwardness], rather than wild attacks on the foundations of contemporary society such as the tales of Heinrich Mann or the plays of Frank Wedekind. Written in a lucid, simple, easy-flowing, and well-tempered prose, these romantic and slightly effeminate novels appealed to the average German citizen, who, however frustrated he may have...
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Seymour L. Flaxman
Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf is a novel of ideas and a novel of character…. It is the delineation of character, after all, that gives a novel the power to stand alone, to resist the aging processes of time, and to appeal to a large audience. This is not to belittle or disparage in any way the ideas involved. For Hesse takes up many of the central problems of our time, problems which have still not been solved….
The hero of Hesse's novel is a middle-aged, middle-class writer and thinker named Harry Haller. A free-lance journalist by profession, Haller is certainly not the average man of his class or even of his group. His questioning, skeptical intelligence leads him to close examination of the affairs of the intellect and to art, music, and philosophy. Furthermore, the folly of attempting to separate the ideas from the novel itself is at once apparent when we realize that the central character is a man of ideas….
Thus we have in Der Steppenwolf the portrait of an intellectual. And one of the most striking things about this portrait is that it is a self-portrait. This close connection between author and hero is immediately evident in the names of the two most important characters. As he did in Unterm Rad, Hesse uses his own initials, merely coining the new name Harry Haller to fit them. It is no accident that the woman who works such a decisive change in Harry's life is named Hermine, the...
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Sidney M. Johnson
There is … one aspect of Glasperlenspiel which merits more than the rather cursory treatment it has received and which may contribute to a fuller appreciation of the fate of the central figure, Josef Knecht. I shall concern myself with the three Lebensläufe [biographical sketchs] appended to the main narrative….
The students of the province of Kastalien in Glasperlenspiel are granted an indefinite period of time for independent study after they have completed their years of formal education…. The only restriction placed on their activity is the requirement of composing each year a fictitious autobiography in which they portray themselves as imaginary persons, as they would have lived in some particular age in the past…. Josef Knecht wrote at least three of these fictitious autobiographies during his years of independent study. It is known too that he had made extensive preliminary studies for a fourth which was never completed. (pp. 160-61)
[The] themes characteristic of each of the three imaginary autobiographies can also be found in the biography of Josef Knecht up to the time when he is called away from his studies to the service of the Order. Perhaps the outstanding motif is that of the process of the transmission of knowledge, or rather that of education in the literal sense of the word. Knecht's youthful experience with the old music master together with his later association with...
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A review of Hesse's prose and poetry reveals three distinct periods. Each represents a different stage in the course of the author's struggle with himself and with life as a whole, and each reflects a correspondingly different phase in his style.
The first of these three periods, the two decades preceding Demian …, is one of uncertainty and vague presentiment. These are the early years of a sensitive outsider who cannot cope directly with his particular problem of existence. He resorts instead to fantasy and withdraws into the realm of beauty, there to indulge in the extremes of late nineteenth-century aestheticism. The first prose of these years (Eine Stunde hinter Mitternacht, 1899, Hermann Lauscher, 1901) is enveloped in a perfumed melancholy. It is characterized by exclamatory remarks and rhetorical questions, by sensuous adjectives and adverbs in languid cadence. The form is loose, a random succession of vignettes and dramatic monologues held together primarily by their common spirit of decadent romanticism. Eine Stunde hinter Mitternacht is notable for its affected heroic pose, its pathos, profuse colors, and its muted sounds. Hermann Lauscher, a Hoffmannesque fusion of fantasy and reality, is both cynical and morbidly intimate. This is the work of a talented beginner whose world of experience is still too limited, and whose imagination is entranced by the facile flow of beautiful language. In...
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[Hesse] produced some twenty-five important works. While some of these belong to the realm of poetry, his most important novels are autobiographical in nature or fall into the category of Erziehungsromane. The Erziehungsroman, or novel of education, commonly shows the protagonist in his effort to cope with the demands that life throws up to him. How do I live best? How can I master the art of living the abundant life? These are most often the problems confronting Hesse's leading personalities. In nearly every one of his works there is thus some attempt at soul-searching. Most of his characters try desperately to come to terms with themselves, and most try to achieve a certain measure of self-realization. There is always the problem of man's spiritual loneliness, the effort to find one's way in a world where individualism and introspection are suspect. (pp. 27-8)
Hesse has repeatedly condemned our age as materialistic and devoid of spirit. It is an epoch that only pays lip service to the ideals of Western civilization and thereby has sunk to a low level of culture where lofty thoughts have been replaced by greed and technics. Man does not envision any more the ideal possibilities of life but has become corrupt. Hesse calls our age "the journalistic age—the era of the digest."…
Disappointed and disgusted with the bloodshed and the loss of individualism during the last fifty years in Europe, Hesse has...
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Kurt J. Fickert
In all of his work Hesse has concerned himself with the individual and his quest for meanings in life. For Hesse the forms of the society which surround the individual are meaningless; therefore, the individual becomes the outsider, the Hessean hero who asks, "How shall I live?"… Although, then, the theme of the outsider underlies much of Hesse's work, there are three novels which, it seems to me, stand out as signposts, marking the direction of Hesse's thinking in terms of an outsider concept, in terms of the nature of such a being. First, Unterm Rad depicts the making of the outsider, the development of his awareness of the social organism and his separation from it, his becoming an isolated cell. In Demian a later stage of the outsider appears: the outsider develops in his isolation, achieves independent life (a stage sometimes known as the break-through). Hesse's "Bible" for the outsider, then, is Der Steppenwolf, in which he prescribes a way of life for the full-fledged outsider and gives him his reason for being. (p. 172)
[Unterm Rad] concerns a schoolboy Hans Giebenrath and his struggle with the world in which he lives. It is his father's world, the world of middle-class society which respects money, respectability, and God (from a distance). Hans performs well in school and as a reward is going to be allowed to become, at state expense, a theologian. But Hans already has the mark of the outsider...
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Eva J. Engel
With every new beginning, Hesse believed himself to be dealing with new problems and new figures. But on looking back in 1953 he realized that he had been concentrating all the time, from differing levels of experience, on "the few problems and types that are appropriate" to him. The demarcation of the poetic potential of his themes—though this seemed meagre to him then—is irrelevant, for at a later stage it enabled Hesse to look back on groups of individuals and to discern in them resemblances of character. He sees in them a multiform entity …, and thus he is confirmed in the belief not only that each individual needs to "awake" and be "reborn" but that this is the way in which the evolution of man will come about.
The recurrence and variation of problems and types to which Hesse himself refers does not result from any poverty of imagination. The metamorphoses of the basic theme are breathtaking. In each of its numerous settings in space and time the theme is equally convincing and meaningfully different. The journey through life which man must undertake becomes the object of the poet's "knowledge, presentiment, thought and feeling", it is captured in the colours and the landscapes of the painter's "Bilderhandschrift" ["pictorial writing"], and speaks to him from music. While the poet in Hesse can be intoxicated by the "magic of the visionary", the story-teller Hesse calls his narratives "monologues in which a single human being...
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Hesse used romanticism as a tool for the development of a unique approach, leading to a sharp analysis of the self, the meaning of personal identity and the conditions of self-consciousness, which he explores in contemporary terms….
Hesse's postwar novels are concerned with the inner world turned inside out, yielding not only dreams, memories, or hallucinations per se but also the world underlying perception, which is dissolved and recomposed in the self's inner landscape. (p. 44)
The perennial split between the individual and the world beyond him is portrayed, not in dramatic action, but in symbolic or allegorical self-representation…. Hesse renders his conflicts as symbolic "self-portraits." In his novels, representative characters mirror their divided selves in drawings, statues, and fictional biographies. (p. 45)
Hesse's various interpretations of the artist's relationship with his experience turn primarily on the opposition of sense and intellect, which is associated with that of dark and light, mother and father, sensuality and ascetic control…. Geist, both spirit and intellect, includes diverse connotations, ranging from the regulating, paternal force of control to the destructive power of a rationalistic culture, although often it also includes the clarity of a divinely rational spirit. Its counterpoint, Seele, on the other hand, is both sensuality and soul,...
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Youth is one of Hesse's major literary themes. (p. 181)
[In his work, there] is one recurring theme, essentially a reiteration of that of Demian, the tortured development of genuine individuality.
According to Hesse, this development, however painful, is the primary responsibility of the adolescent…. "Becoming a personality" means something very specific to the writer, namely, the privilege to feel, act, and think independently of the masses, the obligation to adhere exclusively to the guidance and high demands of one's inner self and the right to encourage the unhampered efflorescence of this self…. The reason why most youths fail to persevere in meeting the challenge of individuation is that they succumb to the strong allure of conformity…. While yielding to mass pressure is one threat to the individual, the opposite extreme, complete withdrawal into a hermetically sealed ego, is, as Hesse implies, equally dangerous. The individual must establish a balance, must find his personal center of gravity between these two forces. (pp. 181-82)
Hesse's "individual" has no desire to impose his will on others. These individuals do not contribute to human betterment … by using humanity as raw material for their autonomous wills, but they contribute by their mere existence….
Hesse's advice to young people regarding the rejection of ready-made, conventional codes cannot be...
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Thomas E. Colby
[The] figure of the Prodigal Son, or as he is known to the Germans, the Lost Son, corresponds to Hesse's self-image as well as to the image of his protagonists.
The epithet verlorener Söhn is first specifically used by Hesse in the poem "Die Entgleisten."…
This Lost Son is but the first of many. Knulp, Emil Sinclair, Harry Haller and Goldmund are all explicitly called verlorene Söhne either by the narrator in editorial comment, by the characters themselves or by another character. And even where the identification is not explicit, we shall find the figure of the Prodigal haunting virtually every work, major or minor, of Hesse's long literary career. (p. 14)
Hesse repeatedly recasts the Biblical parable in his novels and tales. Its structure and general atmosphere inform his works, yet it is altered to conform to his personal and maturing convictions. Hesse's hero, with few exceptions, is the Lost Son who does not return, whose very way of salvation is to remain lost. He and none other is Hesse's "Sonderling," "Steppenwolf," "Entgleister," "Aussenseiter," and "Outsider."
Typical of all these figures is Emil Sinclair, the hero of Demian…. Viewed from the perspective of … "the community of the blessed," Sinclair learns to remain "lost." He is shaped finally, not by the pious upbringing of his home, but by his discipleship to the demonic...
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[In] Peter Camenzind we have an essentially reflective work; the hero, in recounting his experiences, distances himself from them, mulls them over, extracts lessons from them with which he does not fail to instruct the reader, and uses them as a starting point for a generalizing, rather sententious commentary upon life. To assist in this, the technique is essentially one of retrospect, and the wisdom is one of hindsight…. His self-knowledge, when he painfully achieves it, acquires for him the quality of dogma. Armed with such dogma, he frequently addresses the reader in his didactic style…. And this movement, from the direct communication of recalled experience to detachment from it and eventually to didactic commentary upon it, is one of the most essential features of Hermann Hesse's writing; memory and reflection are aspects of that duality which is the framework of his art. (pp. 2-3)
Peter Camenzind remains even today a very readable book. It establishes the prototype of the characteristic lyrical, monologic style of novel, but gives little indication of the torment and profundity to be found in later works…. [The opening is] an overture to the glorification of nature, specifically the splendor of the Bernese Oberland, for this novel is in conception a return to nature, a fact which partly explains its success. (p. 11)
The language seeks to personify the mountains and to evoke the agony of...
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The fact of the current Hesse vogue in this country is easier to ascertain than its causes….
It should be noted at the outset that the phenomenon is less aesthetic than cultural. This means, first, that any discussion regarding Hesse's purely literary merits is irrelevant to the subject. Whether Hesse is a "good" writer or not, he has touched a chord that resounds in the hearts and minds—probably "soul" would be the proper word since it is a common denominator in the vocabularies of Hesse and contemporary youth—of thousands of young Americans. Secondly, anyone wishing to understand the phenomenon must be concerned not so much with what Hesse actually says in his works as with what his readers think or like to believe that he says. For it is a sound though frequently disregarded principle of literary sociology that misconceptions are often as important to the reader as is the true understanding of a writer's works. Finally, the theological analogy suggested by the Hesse cult in America is by no means purely gratuitous. Hesse himself insisted that the primary impulse of his writing was in the broader sense religious, and it is explicitly to this "religious" or—more precisely—ethical impulse that his readers have always responded….
[Many] disaffected young Americans today question a society that has produced poverty, racial inequality, and the war in Vietnam. This disenchantment with the prevailing authority...
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Eugene F. Timpe
One of the most important reasons for [America's] overlooking Hesse … was inherent within his own form of writing. He once said, "I know that I am not a story teller," and it is evident from his writings, especially those of his later period, that narration was often sacrificed to didacticism. He believed that "the true profession of man is to find his way to himself;" and the search for this way became a metaphysical search, associated with and intensified by Oriental philosophy. The wisdom of the East was to broaden and strengthen the potentialities for self-realization within the human products of a declining western civilization. If this was the way to self-discovery, it was not the way to popularity, at least not until recently. (p. 75)
[His recent American vogue] is based upon Hesse as the author of mind-expanding works, works in which the emphasis has shifted from the palpably straightforward narration of events to a kind of subjectivism which is related to the search for self, mysticism, archetypal symbolism, logical paradox as psychological truth, and musical themes and forms which establish a liaison with the subconscious. These works seem not to have exerted their effects earlier simply because the audience to which they appeal, an audience with characteristics rather different from those of its counterpart of a generation ago, has only recently come into existence.
The first and most obvious...
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What do the American dissidents see in Hesse? (p. 981)
Hesse's works, from the earliest to the latest, are written for and about young people…. Problems of school, of growing up, of finding one's place in the world predominate in most of his novels. When a novel exceptionally deals with an older man, as does Steppenwolf, it is characteristically the problems of rejuvenation, of a second adolescence, that are in the foreground. Only Hesse the novelist is being appropriated by the American dissidents. The poet, the essayist, even the short-story writer, have so far been ignored.
Rebellion is another principal theme. All of Hesse's major characters are alienated outsiders…. As their creator did in life, many of them make the school a target of their dissatisfaction. Beneath the Wheel is only the fullest and most obvious of these treatments, a novel in which Hesse frequently speaks with his own undisguised voice still vibrating with indignation. Superficially, of course, the Swabian School system in the eighteen-eighties could not have been more different from our American high schools. But fundamentally Hesse's grievance is the same as that of American radicals: the school is depicted as a tool of the state, the purpose of education is the training of more and better public servants. This leads to another, perhaps the real, target of Hesse's attacks: the state and ultimately any authority except the...
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Peter D. Hertz
[When] I say that Steppenwolf functions as a "bible" I mean that it seems to serve as THE book for certain people, as the one book that says it all, that grabs you and will not let you go, to the point of physical as well as mental commitment. (p. 440)
A book that is to produce martyrs or converts among its readers need not show the balance of a genuine "classic," need not fulfill the highest aesthetic standards of harmony and bearing and sublimity…. Common to a "bible," however, is a despairing attitude toward the very possibility of interpersonal relationships. The overriding issue in a "bible" is not basically aesthetic, ethical, or social in nature, but religious. It is a question of faith, and what, if anything, one can have faith in. (pp. 440-41)
The novel Steppenwolf is for the most part treated as a memoir left behind by an "outsider." Harry Haller, our forty-eight year old German intellectual, has already written several books and articles about the sad state of Europe between the two World Wars. He has been married and divorced and now finds himself in a middle-sized city, deliberately cut off from former friends and acquaintances, and generally in a funk.
Note however that his isolation and intellectual despair is pretty much self-imposed….
Cut off as he is from society, he is also at odds with himself. In particular he finds that his intellectual side...
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Siddhartha is a fictitious biography. A sort of Bildungsroman, it records the passage of a special individual through selected key experiences until he attains to a position of competence in dealing with what little life is left to him. The nature of Siddhartha's preoccupations and development, and the stylistic devices used to relate them, suggest that the work is the repository of certain truths regarding human existence in general…. (p. 117)
Siddhartha is not content. He is conscious of a discrepancy between conventional assumptions and personal satisfaction which neither adulation nor material advantage nor received interpretations of life's meaning can overcome. The apparent cause of Siddhartha's discomfort is the inception of an awareness of himself as a question-begging phenomenon in a situation which provides no ready answers…. However much of a philosophical wild goose chase the search for the overall meaning of existence may be, it takes a gloomy person to jump to the conclusion that because life is meaningless in a particular sense, it is also worthless in a general sense.
But, at least at the time of Siddhartha, Hesse could be a very gloomy person indeed; and by failing to make clear from the beginning that any appraisal of life and hence of the situation of the individual (or, as in practice is more often the case, vice versa) is determined as much by personality as by...
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Existential philosophers argue that man's existence precedes his essence. Unknowingly, the infant is "thrown into existence" at birth; he is awakened to find that he "is." Then, as [Van Cleve] Morris says "… we commence the long slow journey to find our essence." Hermann Hesse in his famous novel Steppenwolf emphasized this very point, "Every created thing has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source."…
Between existence and non-existence is the paradox of knowing that one is of absolute value in the world—that the cosmos wouldn't be quite the same without me. On the other hand, one could be of absolutely no value—the world certainly will get along fine without me. Steppenwolf questions himself on this very note, "Where in this town or in the whole world is the man whose death would be a loss to me? And where is the man to whom my death would mean anything?"…
The characters in Hesse's novels come to their awakening and commence on their journey, making choices on the way. These choices seem to make all the difference in one's life. They are man's reality. And in choosing, each one takes the responsibility for that choosing, reaping the benefits and enduring the consequences.
Existentialists claim the final responsibility for man to decide for himself by his choices, who and what he is, and by extension, what reality is. Hence,...
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Beneath the Wheel proscribes teachers as the enemies of genius, but a strong thread of reverence for the teacher and scholar runs on throughout Hesse, culminating in the reverence for the sages of The Glass Bead Game. Again, the bourgeois, his material possessions and pretensions—the conventional bourgeois which Hesse would have become had he completed his schooling—is constantly reviled; and yet the bourgeois life-style (while he is A Guest at the Spa or is Moving to a New House) is something he resists only by recording his doubts about it. And then, while much of Hesse's lyrical and fantastic writing is a hymn to the pleasures of the solitary imagination, the world of child-like dreaming, the other side of the coin is a lamentation at loneliness, a bitter sense of the isolation felt by the creative artist. Two sides to every question are constantly there: the background which the young Hesse rejected is always invisibly pulling him back. He cannot give full answers to the great questions in mystical terms because there is something puritan, rational and down-to-earth in his personality which prevents a final surrender to nonsense.
This dimension of conflict in Hesse provides nothing so simple as a solution, a panacea, for the "alienated youth". What it does provide is something more like a faithful mirror of some current crises of belief, offering individual readers varying degrees of identity with...
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[Hesse's] entire work seems an endless recording of the process of awakening. The very word fascinates him, and in his last work, the monumental Glass Bead Game (1943), published in this country under the title Magister Ludi, we find the protagonist's admission that "awakening was to me a truly magic word, demanding and pressing, consoling and promising." (p. 52)
In the early novels, Peter Camenzind and Beneath the Wheel (1906), this "exercise" was still so much shrouded in psychological realism that Hesse appeared to be one more of the many sensitive and delicate anatomists of puberty…. Yet, in the light of Hesse's later development, it becomes quite obvious that the psycho-biological "case histories" of Peter Camenzind and Hans Giebenrath are only timid approaches to the painful process of awakening…. (The fact that in both cases the return to the dark is caused by failure to establish satisfactory sexual relations opens the door to psychoanalytic interpretations to which Hesse has been only too often subjected.) There is, in these early books, still a wall barring the adolescent hero from the open road, the same wall which separates young Hesse from the realization of his own inner self and of the problems which beset him and his time. A shock was needed to break down the barrier and bring an awakening which would force upon Hesse the reëvaluation of all values, and open the road before him. The...
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The central statement of ["My Belief"] is made in its title essay….
Far from playing about with ideas of an imminent apocalypse, or vague romantic notions of self-liberation through "magic," or what the more scientifically-inclined barbarians call "consciousness-expanding drugs," Hesse was a deep and original thinker who prescribed ways by which a man might make his way "from the realm of the spirit to the realm of the sense" before finally achieving "the liberating synthesis on the river that flows between the two realms."…
This volume is significant in that it fills a gap by presenting us with Hesse's mind unclouded by the symbolism which sometimes disfigures his novels. Literary criticism, personal credo, social critique—all three genres are represented….
The final essays, written in a spirit of semi-mystical withdrawal from the world, are impressive. These contemplations often begin with idyls of childhood innocence but they soon stride forward into more difficult terrain, the quest for personal identity and moral integrity—in a word, the search we have to make in this world to as it were relearn the innocence we lose when we lose our childhood.
It is a search, as Hesse saw, which is the more poignant in a world increasingly fragmented.
Hesse's fictions currently have a hold on young imaginations. I am glad. I hope that students will feed as...
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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
[Hesse] is deeply loved by those among the American young who are questing.
His simplest, clearest, most innocent tale of seeking and finding is Siddhartha….
Hesse is no black humorist. Black humorists' holy wanderers find nothing but junk and lies and idiocy wherever they go…. Not so with the wanderers of Hesse; they always find something satisfying—holiness, wisdom, hope. (p. 108)
[An] easy explanation of American youth's love for Hesse is this: He is clear and direct and well translated, and he offers hope and romance, which the young play hell finding anywhere else these days….
But there are darker, deeper explanations to be found—and the clue that they exist is that the most important Hesse book to the American young, by their own account, is the wholly Germanic, hopelessly dated jumble called Steppenwolf. (pp. 109-10)
Steppenwolf was the most profound book about homesickness ever written. (p. 111)
The politics espoused by the hero of Steppenwolf coincide with those of the American young, all right: He is against war. He hates armament manufacturers and superpatriots. No nations or political figures or historical events are investigated or praised or blamed. There are no daring schemes, no calls to action, nothing to make a radical's heart beat faster.
Hesse shocks and thrills the...
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