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.)