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|Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)|
German poet and novelist, who has explored in his work the duality of spirit and nature and individual's spiritual search outside restrictions of the society. Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Several of Hesse's novels depict the protagonist's journey into the inner self. A spiritual guide assists the hero in his quest for self-knowledge and shows the way beyond the world "deluded by money, number and time."
"Despair is the result of each earnest attempt to go through life with virtue, justice and understanding and fulfill their requirements. Children live on one side of despair, the awakened on the other side." (in The Journey to the East, 1932)
Hermann Hesse was born into a family of Pietist missionaries and religious publishers in the Black Forest town of Calw, in the German state of Württemberg. Johannes Hesse, his father, was born a Russian citizen in Weissenstein, Estonia. Hesse's mother, Marie Gundert, the daughter of the Pietist Indologist Hermann Gundert, spent her early years in Talatscheri, India. Hesse's parents, who had served as missionaries in India, expected him to follow the family tradition in theology. Hesse entered the Protestant seminary at Maulbronn in 1891, but he was expelled from the school. After unhappy experiences at a secular school, Hesse left his studies. He worked as a bookshop clerk, mechanic, and book dealer in Tübingen, where he joined literary circle called Le Petit Cénacle. During this period Hesse read voluminously and determined the become a writer. In 1899 Hesse published his first works, Romantische Lieder and Eine Stunde hinter Mitternacht.
Hesse became a freelance writer in 1904 after the publication of his novel Peter Camenzind. In the Rousseauesque 'return to nature' story the protagonist leaves the big city to live like Saint Francis of Assisi. The book gained literary success and Hesse married Maria Bernoulli (1868-1963), a photographer nine years his senior, with whom he had three children. Like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, he was interested in the Orient. However, he did not practice Yoga, although he used its breathing technique. "Real Yoga can only be practiced in India", Hesse once said.
A visit in India in 1911 was a disappointment but it gave start to Hesse's studies of Eastern religions and the novel Siddhartha. Eine indische Dichtung (1922). In the story, based on the early life of Gautama Buddha, a Brahman son rebels against his father's teaching and traditions. Eventually he finds the ultimate enlightenment. The culture of ancient Hindu and the ancient Chinese had a great influence on Hesse's works. For several years in the mid-1910s Hesse underwent psychoanalysis under Carl Jung's assistant J.B. Lang (1883-1945), an eccentric, who appeared as Pistorius in (1919) and who remained Hesse's close friend. In the novel DemianRoßhalde (1914) Hesse explored the question of whether the artist should marry. The author's replay was negative and reflected the author's own difficulties. During these years his wife suffered from growing mental instability and his son was seriously ill.
In 1912 Hesse and his family took a permanent residence in Switzerland, settling first in Bern. Martin, his third son, who was born in 1911, became seriously ill. His recuperation was slow and eventually he was placed as a foster child in Kirchdorf. Martin lived with Johanna and Alice Ringier from 1914 until 1927. Hesse volunteered for service in the German army in 1914, but was rejected because of poor health. He spent the years of World War I in Switzerland, where he was in charge of the German Embassy's Central Office for the Distribution of Books to German Prisoners of War. In his writings, Hesse attacked the prevailing moods of militarism and nationalism. By his countrymen, Hesse was called a traitor. During the summer of 1916, when writing became distasteful for him, he turned to painting. Mostly he painted mountain landscapes, lakes, gardens, trees, and houses.
Hesse's breakthrough novel Demian was highly praised by Thomas Mann, who compared its importance to James Joyce's Ulysses and André Gide's The Counterfeiters. The novel attracted especially young veterans of the WW I, and reflected Hesse's personal crisis and interest in Jungian psychoanalysis. With Aldous Huxley he shared belief in the need for spiritual self-realization. "There is no reality except the one contained within us," Hesse once said. "That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself."
Demian was first published under the name of its narrator, Emil Sinclair, but later Hesse admitted his authorship. In the Faustian tale the protagonist is torn between his orderly bourgeois existence and a chaotic world of sensuality. Hesse later admitted that Demian was a story of "individuation" in the Jungian manner. The author also praised unreservedly Jung's study Psychological Types, but in 1921 he suddenly canceled his analysis with Jung and started to consider him merely one of Freud's most gifted pupils.
Leaving his family in 1919, Hesse moved to Montagnola, a small town near Lugano. There he had for years an apartment in an old house. On its balcony Hesse wrote Klingsors letzter Sommer: Erzählungen (1920). In his latter years Hesse lived in a house especially built for him by a friend. Siddharta has been one of Hesse's most widely read work. Its English translation in the 1950s became a spiritual guide to a number of American Beat poets. Hesse's short marriage to Ruth Wenger, the daughter of the Swiss writer Lisa Wenger, was unhappy. He had met her in 1919 and wrote in 1922 the fairy tale Piktors Verwandlungen for Ruth. In the story a spirit, Piktor, who contains within him in a way all Hesse's characters, becomes an old tree and finds his youth again from the love of a young girl.
Hesse divorced from Maria Bernoulli, and married in 1924 Ruth Wenger, but the marriage ended after a few months. These years produced Der Steppenwolf (1927). Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, once said that Steppenwolf is among his favorite books because it "exposes the problem of modernity's isolated and self-isolating man". The protagonist, Harry Haller, goes through his mid-life crisis and must chose between life of action and contemplation. His initials perhaps are not accidentally like the author's. "The few capacities and pursuits in which I happened to be strong had occupied all my attention, and I had painted a picture of myself as a person who was in fact nothing more tan a most refined and educated specialist in poetry, music and philosophy; and as such I had lived, leaving all the rest of me to be a chaos of potentialities, instincts and impulses which I found an encumbrance and gave the label of Steppenwolf." Haller feels that he has two beings inside him, and faces his shadow self, named Hermine. This Doppelgänger figure introduces Harry to drinking, dancing, music, sex, and drugs. Finally his personality is disassembled and reassembled in the 'Magic Theatre' - For Madmen Only.
During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) Hesse stayed aloof from politics. Betrachtungen (1928) and Krieg und Frieden (1946) were collections of essays, which reflected his individualism and opposition to mass movements of the day. Narziß und Goldmund (1930, Narcissus and Goldmund) was a pseudomedieval tale about an abbot and his worldly pupil. The characters represent two contrary tendencies of the soul, both in search of the Great Mother.
In 1931 Hesse married Ninon Dolbin (1895-1966). Ninon was Jewish. She had sent Hesse a letter in 1909 when she was 14, and the correspondence had continued. In 1926 they met accientally. At that time Ninon was separated - she had married the painter B.F. Doldin and planned a career as an art historian. Hesse moved with her to Casa Bodmer, and his restless life became more calm. Hesse's books continued to be published in Germany during the Nazi regime, and were defended in a secret circular in 1937 by Joseph Goebbels. When he wrote for the Frankfurter Zeitung Jewish refugees in France accused him of supporting the Nazis, whom Hesse did not openly oppose. However, he helped political refugees and when Narcissus and Goldmund was reprinted in 1941, he refused to leave out parts which dealt with pogroms and anti-Semitism. In 1943 he was placed on the Nazi blacklist.
In 1931 Hesse began to work on his masterpiece Das Glasperlenspiel, which was came out in 1943. The setting is in the future in the imaginary province of Castilia, an intellectual, elitist community, dedicated to mathematics and music. Knecht ('servant') is chosen by the Old Music Master as a suitable aspirant to the Order. He goes to the city of Waldzell to study, and there he catches the attention of the Magister Ludi, Thomas von der Trave (an allusion to Hesse's rival Thomas Mann). He is the Master of the Games, a system by which wisdom is communicated. Knecht dedicates himself to the Game, and on the death of Thomas, he is elected Magister Ludi. After a decade in his office Knecht tries to leave to start a life devoted to realizing human rights, but accidentally drowns in a mountain lake. In 1942 Hesse sent the manuscript to Berlin for publication. It was not accepted by the Nazis and the work appeared in Zürich, Switzerland. However, during the postwar years, Hesse's last major novel, The Glass Bead Game, was compulsory reading in German schools.
After receiving the Nobel Prize Hesse published no major works. Between the years 1945 and 1962 he wrote some 50 poems and about 32 reviews mostly for Swiss newspapers. Hesse died of cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep on August 9, 1962 at the age of eighty-five. He had suffered from leukemia for six years, but did not know that the had it.
Colin Wilson placed Hesse's name in his bestseller, The Outsider (1956), beside Dostoevsky, Sartre and Camus. In the 1960s and 1970s Hesse became a cult figure for young readers. The interest declined in the 1980s. The Californian rock group Sparrow changed its name to Steppenwolf after Hesse's classic, and released 'Born to be Wild' (1968), which was featured in the film Easy Rider. The name was suggested by the ABC-Dunhill producer Gabriel Mekler who had read the novel. Hesse's books have gained readers from the New Age movements and he is still one of the bestselling German-speaking writers throughout world.
For further reading: Mein Onkel Hermann: Erinnerungen an Alt-Estland by Monika Hunnius (1921); Herman Hesse by Hugo Ball (1947); The Novels of Hermann Hesse by T. Ziolkowski (1965); Hermann Hesse by F. Baumer (1969); Hermann Hesse, His Mind and Art by M. Boulby (1967); C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse by M. Serrano (1971); An Outline of the Works of Hermann Hesse by R. Farquharson (1973); Hesse by T.J. Ziolkowski (1973); Hermann Hesse: A Collection of Criticism, ed. J. Liebmann (1977); Hermann Hesse: Biography and Bibliography by J. Mileck (1977); Hermann Hesse: Life and Art by Joseph Milek (1981); Hermann Hesse's Das Glasperlenspiel: A Concealed Defense of the Mother World by Edmund Remys (1983); The Hero's Quest for the Self by D.G. Richards (1987); Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self by E.L. Satelzig (1988); Reflection and Action by James N. Hardin (1991) - See: Romain Rolland, who was interested in Indian philosophy. Hesse's novel Demian was based on Carl Jung's theories of individuation. James Joyce's daughter Lucia was among Jung's patients in the 1930s. See also Zelda Fitzgerald.