Hesse, Hermann (Vol. 25)
Hermann Hesse 1877–1962
German-born Swiss novelist, poet, short story writer, editor, and critic.
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. His school novel Unterm Rad (The Prodigy) depicts the educational institution as being fatal to the human spirit that does not conform. Within many of Hesse's works there is a theme of the conflict of spirit and flesh. Der Steppenwolf is perhaps the best example of this struggle, in which the animalistic urges of the intellectual Harry Haller strive for release. 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.
Hesse's continued popularity among the youth of several countries has prompted posthumous publications of his poems, letters, and short stories. Although he wrote poetry throughout his life, only Hesse's earliest poems have been published. The confessional mode of his best-known fiction, however, can be seen in them. The letters offer revealing insights into the man and the motivations behind the writer. Perhaps the most interesting of these works is the collection of short stories, Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies. As the title indicates, the stories are written in the genre of fantasy, which many critics consider the logical product of a mind which persisted in rejecting reality. Consequently, critics find in the stories a definite link to Hesse's other fiction. Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 17; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 16-20, rev. ed.; and Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)
[In] spite of his 1946 Nobel Prize [Hesse's] work is somehow not admitted into the canon of "great" twentieth-century German authors. Germans, at least, would be amused nowadays, or mildly astonished, if a foreigner were to mention him along with Thomas Mann, Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Kafka, or Brecht….
It is partly because the canon has no place for a writer whose work, though a coherent whole, is so curiously mixed. It is sometimes cloying, sometimes profound, then quixotically un-ironic, then at once brisk, mysterious, and topical, and at other times, if not in his last two fictions, what Germans patronizingly call pubertär—and most of this in a prose that has a mercurial texture all its own….[The years Hesse spent with his first wife at Gaienfofen, on Lake Constance, shaped him] as a mildly disturbed but polite author of Swabian small-town tales and of two novels about desperate but rather dreary artists. He was successful, second-rate, and trapped. The change came in the middle of the First World War….
Yet Hesse does not quite belong among those writers who extracted from the war, besides horror, disgust, and irony, a distinctly altered outlook, a vocabulary purged of cant, and a new approach to poetry. Doubt toward any pretension to dignity and nobility—that is one attitude Hesse confessed he drew from the war. Also a heightening of the color, tempo, urgency of his prose could be taken for a sign...
(The entire section is 935 words.)
The theme of fantasy runs strong in all Hesse's work; in this selection of 19 stories [Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies], which span his entire writing career and embody many literary forms, he gives it its head. The title story, an allegorical account of a love affair of his own, is a charming but watercolory fable about the search for true happiness. "Lulu," the longest story and also the first written (1900), is a lushly romantic fairy tale, mingling fantasy and realism…. "Among the Massagetae" and "King Yu," written much later, skillfully turn fable to the uses of social satire. "The Jackdaw" (1951), one of the simplest but most effective pieces, is a rumination on an eccentric jackdaw, a solitary like Hesse himself (whose third wife nicknamed him "Bird"). For all their limpidity of style, ingenuity of fancy and attempts to portray the eternal verities of the human soul in the guise of magic, these stories do not have the power of a tale by the Brothers Grimm (who influenced Hesse greatly). Nor are they likely to disarm those critics who, not in the way of flattery, regard Hesse as the writer par excellence of adolescence.
"Fiction: 'Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the November 20, 1981 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1981 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 220, No....
(The entire section is 227 words.)
Thomas A. Kamla
[The stories in Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies are] generically linked to a specific narrative medium, namely the fantastic. This rubric ought not disarm the reader; for Hesse, the fantastic is not an escapist mode for solipsistic flights of the imagination. Rather, many of the themes that problematize his other works surface here just as compellingly. The conflict between life and mind in modern man's soul, the situation of the intellectual and artist in a highly restrictive and hostile environment, man's union with nature, rebellion against bourgeois philistinism—these are characteristic themes in Hesse's writings that also impact on the fantastic mode. The form he adopts in Pictor's Metamorphoses, the fairy tale and the legend, simply constitutes an extended metaphor of the way he envisions and confronts these themes.
The nineteen stories presented in this volume vary vastly in their individual plots, e.g., the artist and the objective world, religious hypocrisy, nature contra technology, the individual and the political state, psychology and dream; still, they are held together by a recurrent leitmotif, the alienation of man from his true self, a theme typical of Hesse depicting man's loss of an original state of primitive innocence through the process of civilization. By turning to the idealized realm of fairy tale and legend, Hesse is able to exercise greater aesthetic freedom in creating an ethical...
(The entire section is 304 words.)
[The] distrust of everyday "reality"—it is characteristic that [Hesse] customarily bracketed the term with quotation marks to indicate what he regarded as its tentative, problematic nature—remained a conspicuous theme in Hesse's thought throughout his life. (p. vii)
At the same time, Hesse inevitably coupled his rejection of present "reality" with an assertion of his faith in a higher truth…. In 1940 his denial of "so-called reality" concluded with the claim that "all spiritual reality, all truth, all beauty, all longing for these things, appears today to be more essential than ever."
This perceived dichotomy between contemporary "reality" and eternal values produces the tension that is characteristic of Hesse's entire literary oeuvre. The heroes of his best-known novels … are men driven by their longing for a higher reality that they have glimpsed in their dreams, their visions, their epiphanies, but tied by history and destiny to a "reality" that they cannot escape. At times, however, Hesse sought to depict that other world outright, and not simply as the vision of a figure otherwise rooted in this world.
Northrop Frye has observed that "fantasy is the normal technique for fiction writers who do not believe in the permanence or continuity of the society they belong to." Accordingly, fantasy is the appropriate generic term for Hesse's attempts—both in his fiction and … in his...
(The entire section is 1741 words.)
Hermann Hesse's fairy tales in Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies are nowhere near the standard of his great work. Hesse thrives on the shifting, blurring, dangerous balance between fantasy and what we call reality: it is this balance between real and imagined worlds which characterizes his masterpieces Steppenwolf or the magnificent and sustained The Glass Bead Game. Only one story stands out from this collection, published in an authorized translation in Britain for the first time, Pictor's Metamorphoses itself, which tells in allegorical form his love for his second wife, the singer Ruth Winger whom he married briefly after living in an isolation he found unconducive to happiness or creation….
In these fairy tales full of stock characters—the merman, the simple wise boy, the virgin, the three brothers—Hesse limbers up for his major work, establishing links between his conscious and the deeper, unconscious world of myth and legend. Hesse was a connoisseur of fairy tales and anyone who is a fan of his would do well to read this varied collection of the master storyteller, who was on talking terms with the moon and the devil.
Sally Emerson, "Recent Fiction: 'Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies'," in The Illustrated London News (© 1982 The Illustrated London News & Sketch Ltd.), Vol. 270, No. 7010, September, 1982, p. 59....
(The entire section is 213 words.)
All nineteen pieces in [Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies] are fantasies, chosen by Theodore Ziolkowski from a half century of Hesse's writings. Some are tales of magic in the style of the Brothers Grimm or The Arabian Nights; at the other extreme we find social satires in which prevalent and objectionable trends are exaggerated to appear fantastical. All are perfectly representative of an author whose fictional heroes, from Demian to Harry Haller in Steppenwolf and Josef Knecht in The Glass Bead Game, are aware of the plausible explanation and reject it in favour of dream.
Hesse includes in one of his later stories published here a fairytale written when he was ten. It is his first known piece of prose composition, and it sets the tone for the "soul biographies" (his term) which are his collected works. In every case the illogical starts from known life…. Incidents from the remote past surface in the present, myth takes its place as a familiar component of life. This author wants to tell us that there is always a bridge between the visible and invisible. The admirable thing about Hesse is that he elaborates the obvious with such affecting sincerity. For him originality means simply going back to the origins. He does not suprirse, but he satisfies.
When he describes dreams in one of these stories as "nocturnal games" he connects with a constant theme of his work, the dream or...
(The entire section is 598 words.)