Hermann Hesse Hesse, Hermann (Vol. 11)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Hesse, Hermann 1887–1962

A German novelist, poet, and essayist, Hesse became a Swiss citizen in 1923. His prose and poetry are often drawn from autobiographical sources and possess a lyricism sharing more with the German romantics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century than anything found in modern literature. Thematically he is concerned with the plight of the artist in society as well as the psychological motivations of human behavior. Hesse became rather a cult figure in the 1960s for works like Siddhartha, which center on his romantic conception of the young alienated hero and reflect his unique blending of western and oriental philosophy. Hesse also wrote under the pseudonym of Emil Sinclair. He received the Nobel Prize in 1946. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)

Thomas Mann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Even] as a poet [Hesse] likes the role of editor and archivist, the game of masquerade behind the guise of one who "brings to light" other people's papers. The greatest example of this is the sublime work of his old age, The Glass Bead Game…. In reading it I very strongly felt … how much the element of parody, the fiction and persiflage of a biography based upon learned conjectures, in short the verbal playfulness, help keep within limits this late work, with its dangerously advanced intellectuality, and contribute to its dramatic effectiveness. (p. 17)

This chaste and daring work, full of fantasy and at the same time highly intellectual, is full of tradition, loyalty, memory, secrecy—without being in the least derivative. It raises the intimate and familiar to a new intellectual, yes, revolutionary level—revolutionary in no direct political or social sense but rather in a psychic, poetical one: in genuine and honest fashion it is prophetic of the future, sensitive to the future. I do not know how else to describe the special, ambiguous, and unique charm it holds for me. It possesses the romantic timbre, the tenuousness, the complex, hypochondriacal humor of the German soul—organically and personally bound up with elements of a very different and far less emotional nature, elements of European criticism and of psychoanalysis. The relationship of this Swabian writer of lyrics and idyls to the erotological "depth psychology" of Vienna, as for example it is expressed in Narcissus and Goldmund, a poetic novel unique in its purity and fascination, is a spiritual paradox of the most appealing kind. (pp. 17-18)

The electrifying influence exercised on a whole generation just after the First World War by Demian … is unforgettable. With uncanny accuracy this poetic work struck the nerve of the times and called forth grateful rapture from a whole youthful generation who believed that an interpreter of their innermost life had risen from their own midst—whereas it was a man already forty-two years old who gave them what they sought. And need it be stated that, as an experimental novel, Steppenwolf is no less daring than Ulysses and The Counterfeiters?

For me his lifework, with its roots in native German romanticism, for all its occasional strange individualism, its now humorously petulant and now mystically yearning estrangement from the world and the times, belongs to the highest and purest spiritual aspirations and labors of our epoch. Of the literary generation to which I belong I early chose him … as the one nearest and dearest to me and I have followed his growth with a sympathy that sprang as much from our differences as from our similarities…. He has written things—why should I not avow it?—such as A Guest at the Spa and indeed much in The Glass Bead Game, especially the great introduction, which I read and feel "as though 'twere part of me." (p. 18)

Thomas Mann, in his Reden und Aufsätze II, Hermann Hesse zum siebzigsten Geburtstag and Nachträge, Dem sechzigjährigen Hermann Hesse (© 1960, 1974 S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main; © 1974 S. Fischer Verlag GmbH,...

(The entire section is 3,403 words.)