Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 699
Johann Veraguth (FEHR -ah-gewt), a successful artist with an international reputation. Despite assurances that he is known for exhibitions of his work all over Europe, Veraguth is clearly not involved in the world of fame. Two passions visibly affect him: the intellectual and aesthetic content of his...
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- Critical Essays
Johann Veraguth (FEHR-ah-gewt), a successful artist with an international reputation. Despite assurances that he is known for exhibitions of his work all over Europe, Veraguth is clearly not involved in the world of fame. Two passions visibly affect him: the intellectual and aesthetic content of his paintings and love for his youngest son, Pierre. He is largely indifferent to his wife, who inhabits the main manor house of Rosshalde, leaving Veraguth to his own domain in his studio. The painter has another son, Albert, who returns to Rosshalde during school vacations. Veraguth shows few open feelings for him; those he shows are negative. Veraguth’s main concern seems to be to obtain legal custody of Pierre, even to the point of being willing to give up any other claims if Adele will agree to a discreet divorce. Gradually made conscious of the need to break with this world of constant tensions, Veraguth is about to agree to leave Rosshalde to sojourn abroad with his lifetime friend Burkhardt.
Adele Veraguth (ah-DEH-leh), the wife of the painter, a proper woman, strongly built and fit but missing any traces of her youth. She maintains all the outward signs of decency in dealing with her estranged husband but, without showing any outward emotion, harbors muted regrets that their relationship has failed. Adele is a protective mother; given the age difference between her two sons by Veraguth, however, this protectiveness is manifested in different ways. When Albert, the older son, loses patience with little Pierre’s fits of jealousy at the thought of his brother receiving attention normally reserved for him alone, Adele excuses him for his childishness. She tries very hard to convince Albert of the value of acknowledging what is good and right, without trying to understand or worry about hereditary tendencies that cannot be changed.
Pierre Veraguth, an extremely sensitive seven-year-old who would like to understand why his father, despite outward signs of affection, never allows himself to share his emotions fully. Pierre is too young to understand the emotional effects that the estrangement has worked on both his mother and his father. To vent his own emotions, Pierre sometimes retreats, either literally or in his mind, to secret hiding places. Pierre’s fatal bout with meningitis infuses the plot with a high degree of tension in the last section of the book, bringing his two parents together in anxiety and then grief (but not reconciliation) when he dies.
Albert Veraguth, the older of the Veraguth sons. Albert already shows signs of becoming an accomplished pianist. It is his mother who shows appreciation of his talents; Albert has practically no communication with his father. Albert occasionally resents his younger brother, who is clearly preferred by Veraguth, and is definitely disturbed by the mixed blessing of having a famous father. Although Albert generally maintains an image of self-assurance and maturity, his relations with his mother reveal occasional weaknesses. At Rosshalde during a school break, he expresses regret that he could not stand the pressure of bringing a schoolmate with him, for fear of exposing the true situation of his family’s existence. His irrational wishes—that he had no father, that the family had no estate, and that his mother would find herself reduced to earning a modest income through sewing and music lessons—reveal the extent to which Albert is tied to the image of Adele as an injured woman.
Otto Burkhardt, Veraguth’s lifetime friend, tall and somewhat stout, who imparts a feeling of sociability and a natural enjoyment of life. Burkhardt is a man of material substance, having established himself as a planter in South Asia. He maintains frequent contact with his home country. There seem to be two main elements underlying his relationship with Veraguth during one of his annual home leaves. One is to relive the experiences of the two men as youths. The other, which remains incompletely developed at the end of the novel, is Burkhardt’s need for the completion—through Veraguth’s companionship and the proposed voyage of the latter to India for an extensive sojourn—of his own, apparently only outwardly successful, life.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528
The focus throughout the novel is on Veraguth; it is his psychological state in which Hesse is most interested. Veraguth, however, is not presented as a complex, multifaceted character. Rather, he is the artist par excellence—at least as Hesse sees the artist. Although Veraguth tells Burkhardt that Adele was never what he wanted from a wife, that she was too solemn and heavy rather than lively, it becomes clear that Veraguth’s artistic temperament makes him singularly unsuitable for the intimacy that marriage requires. Burkhardt realizes that the dark springs of Veraguth’s art are his inner loneliness and self-torment; it is this which constitutes the source of his power to create as well as the source of the strange sadness which one often sees in great works of art.
The fact that Veraguth can so easily accept the imminent death of his beloved son is one of the indications of the thesis-bound nature of this novel. Indeed, Veraguth senses as soon as the boy becomes ill that he must die, that his death will be that which will finally release him from any human involvement and will leave him free to be the observer and the creator only. His love for Pierre will now become fuel for his art. If Veraguth were presented as a complex and multifaceted human being in a realistic novel, rather than an embodiment of Hesse’s views of the artist’s relationship to life in what is basically the illustration of an aesthetic idea, then such a cold and fatalistic attitude would seem unbelievable.
Adele and Albert are closely aligned with each other. Although both are musicians, they are aloof and detached. Albert is filled with hatred for his father, although the novel never makes it clear why he hates him so much. Adele is overly possessive of her children and formal and reserved with her husband.
Although Veraguth is the central psychological focus of the novel, Pierre is also presented as a complex character, particularly after he becomes ill.His complexity, however, is more a result of his function as a symbolic figure who must be sacrificed for the sake of his father’s art than of his inner psychological self. The illness makes him look prematurely aged, and indeed he seems preternaturally wise in the sense that he knows that his death and his father’s departure will occur simultaneously. The other primary symptom of the disease—his sensitivity to smells and sounds, in short his inability to bear any input to the five senses—suggests a parallel to his father’s life as an artist, for the father also cuts himself off from any real contact with the external world.
All the characters in the novel, therefore, seem primarily governed by the role they must play in the freeing of Veraguth from involvement with the world so that he may fulfill his life as an artist. They do not seem to exist in their own right; they exist as figures in a fable. Such an approach gives the novel a quality of simplicity and starkness that renders all the characters (with the exception of the victim Pierre) unsympathetic.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 44
Boulby, Mark. Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art, 1967.
Field, George Wallis. Hermann Hesse, 1970.
Mileck, Joseph. Hermann Hesse: Life and Art, 1978.
Sorell, Walter. Hermann Hesse: The Man Who Sought and Found Himself, 1974.
Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Novels of Hermann Hesse: A Study in Theme and Structure, 1965.