Hermann Hesse’s last novel, his most ambitious in scope and theme, traces the growth of the youth Joseph Knecht from early studies through maturing philosophical discovery to the office of Magister Ludi and past it, to his voluntary retirement and death. At once a Bildungsroman, a roman a clef, and a philosophical utopian novel, The Glass Bead Game ranks with a handful of other twentieth century novels as one of the most complex expressions of the modernist sensibility in prose literature.
Told by an anonymous narrator, possibly Knecht’s successor to the title of Magister Ludi, the story of Knecht’s absorption with the Glass Bead Game begins with early school successes at the violin. Discovered by an ancient musician who travels from school to school and is known only as the Magister Musicae, Knecht demonstrates an aesthetic sensitivity, a technical skill, and an ability to improvise on musical themes that convince the Master of the young man’s promising future as one of the elitist members of the Order of Castalia. The Order is partly a monastic and reclusive quasi-religious sect, partly a musician’s conservatory, and partly a think tank for the ongoing study of universal correspondences articulated through mathematics, history, logic, and the literary arts.
Knecht’s initiation into the mainstream of Castalian life comes at two schools: Eschholz, a clearing ground to determine the students’ special strengths, and Waldzell, for students demonstrating an affinity for the Glass Bead Game, a mysteriously eclectic intellectual exercise incorporating all the human disciplines.
As Knecht moves through his education, he meets various masters and...
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