Klingsor's Last Summer

by Hermann Hesse

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Characters Discussed

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Klingsor (KLIHNG-zor), a famous forty-two-year-old painter born in 1877. He lives in Castagnetta in the Italian countryside. He loves the poetry of Li Po and, on occasion, calls himself Li Po, much as he calls his friend Hermann by the name Tu Fu. Klingsor is a heavy drinker and a womanizer. His work habits are just as intense as his carousing. The question is asked whether he is a scoundrel and profligate or a silly child. He himself feels that spirituality and sensuality are of equal value. He is aware that he lives only for the moment and that, therefore, he is not troubled by questions of mortality. Klingsor suffers from feelings presaging his impending death. Once, in a conversation, he expresses his fear that after he is gone, he and his work will be discussed in terms similar to those used for the classics. He imagines his obituary in a city newspaper to read: “outstanding painter, expressionist, great colorist, died on the sixteenth of this month.” His last completed work is a self-portrait that is abstract and expressionistic. Critics well-disposed toward his work say that the portrait shows the wild and childlike man of their age: dying European man. This man is sick of vice and decadence but at the same time wants to die and is enraptured by the knowledge of his doom, submitting to his fate, beast and sage. When Klingsor is done, he locks the painting away in an unused room.

Louis the Cruel

Louis the Cruel, also called the Bird and the Glutton, Klingsor’s friend and also a well-known painter. Louis loves to travel and lives in railroad cars. He always leaves abruptly to go on the road again: His knapsack is his studio. He is a bon vivant, like his friend Klingsor. He has a female friend for whom he sends while he is in Castagnetta, telling her that he is dying as a means of impelling her to come to him. Louis mirrors Klingsor in his sensualism as well as in his spiritualism.


Hermann, a poet whom his friend Klingsor calls Tu Fu. Hermann is blond and has an astrologer friend whom he introduces to Klingsor. The latter tells Klingsor that his stars stand oddly. Hermann loves the carousel and children. Tu Fu’s and Li Po’s poems, of which Hermann is as fond as his friend Klingsor, tell of the transiency and death of everything except for the eternal Mother from whom humankind came.

The Characters

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Klingsor is to some extent an autobiographical figure. He was born, like Hermann Hesse, in 1877, and he embodies some of the conflicts of Hesse’s own life. Hesse also took up painting. Impulsive and intense, Klingsor prides himself on being totally receptive to life, living more fully and perceiving the world more richly than the next man. In his youth, he had been a manic-depressive; his spells of ecstasy were followed by pain and deprivation. It was like a continual cycle of death and resurrection. Yet he had dared to do new things, even though he knew that the intensity with which he lived would burn him out shortly. His creativity had flamed too violently, too overwhelmingly, for it to endure. He does not believe in tomorrow and acts as if every day were his last. He fails not because of the poverty of his spirit, but because he reaches for too much, wanting what the world cannot give.

Klingsor is also the archetypal romantic. He places enormous importance on his feelings. He wants to experience every emotion fully, even negative ones, which he does...

(This entire section contains 470 words.)

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not believe are bad. To wrong even one feeling, he writes to his friend Edith, is to extinguish a star.

He knows the futility of all of his enterprises. Life is short and irrevocable and his preoccupation with death, which he both wants and fears, becomes more pronounced as the summer passes. As the Armenian astrologer puts it, he sits singing in his burning house.

His friend Louis, the only other character who is portrayed in any depth, is a reflection of the sensual side of Klingsor’s personality. He is also a famous painter, the only man who fully understands Klingsor’s art and whose own is its equal. He is a wanderer and a sensualist who would sooner have his favorite girl on his lap than spend his time painting. We only paint when we have nothing better to do, he teases Klingsor. He believes that painting reduces and limits nature and does not enhance it. Klingsor sees the force of Louis’ argument, but, typically, he wants both worlds—the pure creativity of the mind as well as the joys of the senses. Both are equally valuable in his eyes as long as the burning intensity of life and love is in both.

Other characters, including a number of sensual women (Klingsor is an incorrigible womanizer) flit in and out of the narrative. A doctor friend remarks on death and prompts Klingsor to affirm the paradise of the moment, more precious because it is never to return. Tu Fu, the writer, pops up from time to time with some appropriate verses on death. Yet, appropriately enough for a man who wishes to absorb all things into himself, the focus always remains on Klingsor.


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Field, G.W. Hermann Hesse, 1970.

Heiney, Donald. Review in The Christian Science Monitor. LXIII (December 30, 1970), p. 9.

Henel, E.G. Review in Library Journal. XCV (October 1, 1970), p. 3304.

Hill, Susan. Review in New Statesman. LXXXII (September 10, 1971), p. 340.

Rose, Ernest. Faith from the Abyss: Hermann Hesse’s Way from Romanticism to Modernity, 1965.




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