Hermann Hesse Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Although Hermann Hesse is known primarily for his novels, he also wrote poems and essays on art, literature, and society as well as short stories. In addition, he wrote reviews and articles for numerous journals and newspapers and compiled critical editions of a wide variety of literary works.


Hermann Hesse’s maiden novel Peter Camenzind (1904; English translation, 1961) won the Bauernfeld Prize of Vienna in 1904, the first of myriad awards bestowed on the author in his lifetime. Interestingly, most of Germany’s prestigious awards were not accorded to Hesse until after World War II, when he was near seventy. Other significant awards include the Goethe Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, both awarded in 1946. Hesse also contributed the so-called cult book Demian (1919; English translation, 1923), which took the German literary scene by storm when it was published, providing, as Hesse’s biographer Joseph Mileck purports, “a veritable bible for German youth.” This same novel produced a huge following in American colleges in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its focus on the unintegrated hero as outsider and his accompanying quest for a self-identity, a matrix of personal values, and a means of facilitating moral and philosophic commitment.

Other literary forms

In 1899, Hermann Hesse (HEHS-uh) published a collection of his poems under the title Romantische Lieder (romantic songs), and this was to be the first volume of a truly prodigious literary output. In addition to his longer prose works, Hesse wrote several volumes of poems, fairy tales, and short prose pieces. Hesse was also a prolific letter writer and reviewer: In the course of his lifetime, he reviewed more than twenty-five hundred books, and his correspondence fills many volumes. Hesse’s essays, which typically express pacifist views or a humanitarian identification with all humankind, have appeared both as separate volumes and as a part of his massive collected works.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

By the beginning of World War I, Hermann Hesse had become, in the German-speaking countries of Europe, a solid literary success. His poems, prose vignettes, and novels sold well, and he was tantamount to a habit with German readers by 1914. At the outbreak of the war, however, this situation soon changed in Germany, the result primarily of Hesse’s outspoken disparagement of militarism and chauvinism. After the war, Hesse once again became a popular author, especially among younger readers, but this popularity lasted only until the advent of National Socialism, and in 1939, Hesse was officially placed on the list of banned authors, having long since been vilified as a “Jew lover” and unpatriotic draft dodger (from 1890 to 1924, Hesse was a German, not a Swiss, citizen). Throughout and despite this ebb and flow of critical celebration, Hesse continued to write.

After World War II, Hesse was once again sought after—personally and as a writer—as one who could offer moral guidance to a spiritually bankrupt and physically crippled Germany. He became, almost overnight, a celebrity, and was awarded a series of literary prizes, including the Goethe Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, both in 1946. Although some still voiced doubts about Hesse as a writer and insisted he was not of the stature of a Thomas Mann, a Bertolt Brecht, or a Franz Kafka, Hesse’s popularity in Germany lasted until about 1960, when it rapidly declined. It was at that time, paradoxically enough, that an international “Hessemania” took hold, a kind of exuberant reverence that was particularly strong among disaffected young people in countries as disparate as Sweden, Japan, and the United States. In the United States alone, more than ten million copies of Hesse’s works were sold between 1960 and 1970 (when the Hesse wave crested), a literary phenomenon without precedent. Whatever reservations one may have about Hesse, it is a fact that he remains the most widely read German author of all time.

Discussion Topics

How do you account for the burst of popularity for Hermann Hesse’s fiction in the United States in the 1960’s?

Compare Hesse’s Beneath the Wheel to American school novels, such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and John Knowles’s A Separate Peace (1959).

Comment on Thomas Mann’s suggestion that The Glass Bead Game gave the American reader the opportunity “to dare to laugh.”

What is your understanding of Siddhartha’s discovery that “every sin carries the hope of grace within it”?

Trace the right of passage through which Henry Haller must move in Steppenwolf.

By what means does Hesse make his works both spiritual autobiographies and stories of Everyman?

Other literary forms

Though Hermann Hesse (HEHS-uh) is best known among English-speakers for his novelsespecially Demian (1919; English translation, 1923), Der Steppenwolf (1927; Steppenwolf, 1929), Siddhartha (1922; English translation, 1951); Narziss und Goldmund (1930; Death and the Lover, 1932; also known as Narcissus and Goldmund, 1968), and Das Glasperlenspiel: Versuch einer Lebensbeschreibung des Magister Ludi Josef Knecht samt Knechts hinterlassenen Schriften (1943; Magister Ludi, 1949; also known as The Glass Bead Game, 1969)he wrote a significant volume of work in other genres. He began composing poems as a precocious child, and despite his output in other literary forms, he continued writing verse throughout his long life. Many of his novels, in fact, contain rhymes, and since the 1950’s much of his poetry has been adapted for musical pieces, especially in Europe. In addition to numerous collections of poems, Hesse wrote volumes of short stories, fairy tales, essays, articles, lectures and other nonfiction. He also edited several periodicals and served as editor for dozens of books, particularly from 1910 to 1926.


Hermann Hesse authored millions of words including hundreds, perhaps thousands, of poems. Much of his verse from the mid-1930’s onward was self-published in small private editions featuring his hand-painted watercolors as gifts for friends and remains uncollected. Hesse first achieved recognition in 1904, winning the Wiener Bauernfeld Prize for his novel Peter Camenzind (English translation, 1961). He received the Fontane Prize for Demian in 1920, but returned it because the award was intended for new writers. In 1936, he was honored with Zurich’s Gottfried-Keller Prize for Literature. In 1946, he received both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Goethe Prize. He added the Wilhelm Raabe Prize (1950) and the...

(The entire section is 158 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Boulby, Mark. Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967. An extensive examination of Hesse’s novels from the perspective that there are definable, basic, and yet complex structural patterns revealed in a survey of all the longer works. Underlying the examination is the assertion that the pivotal point of Hesse’s work is his universalization of a personal conflict in artistic from. Provides an in-depth analysis of each of the major novels, including the earlier Peter Camenzind and Beneath the Wheel.

Brink, Andrew. Obsession and Culture: A Study of Sexual Obsession in Modern...

(The entire section is 721 words.)