Perhaps no writer of modern times, with the possible exception of Francis Thompson, has suffered greater indignities than Jakob Wassermann (VAHS-sehr-mahn) in the struggle to vindicate himself as an artist. He was born of Jewish parentage to his merchant father, a man with a narrow, conservative outlook who allowed his second wife, the boy’s unsympathetic stepmother, to regulate the life of the household. In his childhood Wassermann’s literary talents were ruthlessly curbed on the principle that if he should become a writer he would be poor and therefore worthless. In 1889 he was sent to Vienna, where his uncle was the proprietor of a factory; unable to bear the routine of business, Wassermann made a temporary escape to Munich with the plan of studying to enter the university. Lacking money, he returned home and was sent to Vienna again, this time to learn the export trade. Less than a year later, he left his new job. Conscripted into the army for the required year of military duty, he became the butt of anti-Semitic pranks and insults from comrades.
After completing his year of service he held a government job in Nuremberg until, inheriting a small sum of money, he ventured to Munich again and remained as long as his resources allowed. He briefly found employment in Freiburg but then, destitute again, he roamed as a beggar in the Black Forest before working his way with odd jobs to Zurich and then once more to Munich. A turn in his fortunes occurred,...
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