German poet and novelist, who has depicted in his works the
duality of spirit and nature, body versus mind 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 protagonists struggle for enlightenment. A spiritual guide assists
the hero in his quest and shows the way beyond everyday world.
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 Wüttenberg. His parents 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 worked in several jobs. He was a
bookshop clerk, as a mechanic and as a book dealer in Tübingen, where he
joined literary circle called Le Petit Cénacle. In 1899 Hesse published
his first works, ROMANTISCHE LIEDER and EINE STUNDE HINTER MITTERNACHT.
Hesse became a freelance writer in 1904, when his novel PETER
CAMENZIND, a Rousseauesque 'return to nature' story, gained literary
success. The book reflected Hesse's disgust with the educational system.
In the same year he married Maria Bernoulli, with whom he had three
children. A visit in India in 1911 gave start to Hesse's studies of
Eastern religions and novel SIDDHARTHA (1922). It was based on the early
life of Gautama Buddha. 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 Gustav Jung and his
assistant J.B. Lang.
In 1912 Hesse and his family took a permanent residence in
Switzerland. In the novel ROSSHALDE (1914) Hesse explored the question
of whether the artist should marry. The author's replay was negative.
During these years his wife suffered from growing mental instability and
his son was seriously ill. Hesse spent the years of World War I in
Switzerland, attacking the prevailing moods of militarism and
nationalism. He also promoted the interests of prisoners of war. Hesse,
who shared with Aldous Huxley belief in the need for spiritual
self-realization, was condemned for his persistent pacifism.
Hesse's breakthrough novel was DEMIAN (1919). It 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. Demian was first
published under the name of its narrator, Emil Sinclair, but later Hesse
admitted his authorship. It was a Faustian tale of a man torn between
his orderly bourgeois existence and a chaotic world of sensuality. In is
said to provide an unusual justification of German soldiers, who were
said to have killed their enemies impersonally.
Leaving his family in 1919, Hesse moved to Montagnola, in
southern Switzerland. In 1922 appeared SIDDHARTHA, a novel of asceticism
set in the time of Buddha. Its English translation in the 1950s became a
spiritual guide to the generation of American Beat poets. Hesse's second
marriage to Ruth Wenger (1924-27) was unhappy. These difficult years
produced DER STEPPENWOLF (1927). The protagonist, Harry Haller, is a
self-absorbed man in midlife crisis, who must chose between life of
action and contemplation. Haller faces his shadow self, named Hermine.
This Doppelgänger figure introduces Harry to drinking, dancing, music,
sex and drugs, teaching him to find his true self.
Weimar Republic (1919-1933) Hesse stayed aloof from politics. His books
continued to be published in Germany during the Nazi regime, and were
defended from individual attacks by an official circular in 1937, though
he was placed on the Nazi blacklist in 1943.
In 1931 Hesse married his third wife, Ninon Dolbin, and began
in the same year work on his masterpiece DAS GLASPERLENSPIEL, which was
published 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 first time in Zürich.
After receiving the Nobel Prize Hesse wrote no major works.
He died of cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep on August 9, 1962 at the age
of eighty-five. Hesse's other central works include In Sight of Chaos
(1923), a collection of essays, the novel Narcissus and Goldmund (1930),
set in the Middle Ages and repeating the theme of two contrasting types
of men, and Poems (1970).
In the 1960s and 1970s Hesse became a cult figure for young
readers. The interest declined in the 1980s. In 1969 the Californian
rock group Sparrow changed their name to Steppenwolf after Hesse's
classic, and released 'Born to be Wild'. Hesse's books have gained
readers from the New Age movements and he is still one of the
bestselling German-speaking writers throughout world.
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