Hermann Hesse

Now we are going to make a tribute to Hermann Hesse.

Hermann Hesse was a German-born, Swiss poet, novelist, and painter.


Hermann Hesse 2.jpg


His best-known works include “Steppenwolf”, “Siddhartha”, and “The Glass Bead Game”, each of which explores an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Early life and education:

In 1881, when Hesse was four, his family moved to Basel, Switzerland, staying for six years and then returning to Calw.

After successful attendance at the Latin School in Göppingen, Hesse entered the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Maulbronn Abbey in the autumn of 1891.

The pupils lived and studied at the abbey, one of Germany’s most beautiful and well-preserved, attending 41 hours of classes a week. Although Hesse did well during the first months, writing in a letter that he, in particular, enjoyed writing essays and translating classic Greek poetry into German, his time in Maulbronn was the beginning of a serious personal crisis.

In March 1892, Hesse showed his rebellious character, and, in one instance, he fled from the Seminary and was found in a field a day later. Hesse began a journey through various institutions and schools and experienced intense conflicts with his parents.

In May, after an attempt at suicide, he spent time at an institution in Bad Boll under the care of theologian and minister Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt. Later, he was placed in a mental institution in Stetten im Remstal, and then a boys’ institution in Basel.

At the end of 1892, he attended the Gymnasium in Cannstatt, now part of Stuttgart. In 1893, he passed the One Year Examination, which concluded his schooling. The same year, he began hanging out with older companions and took up drinking and smoking.

After this, Hesse began a bookshop apprenticeship in Esslingen am Neckar, but quit after three days. Then, in the early summer of 1894, he began a 14-month mechanic apprenticeship at a clock tower factory in Calw. The monotony of soldering and filing work made him resolve to turn himself toward more spiritual activities.

In October 1895, he was ready to begin wholeheartedly a new apprenticeship with a bookseller in Tübingen. This experience from his youth, especially his time spent at the Seminary in Maulbronn, he returns to later in his novel “Beneath the Wheel”.

Becoming a writer:

On 17 October 1895, Hesse began working in the bookshop in Tübingen, which had a specialized collection in theology, philology, and law.

Hesse’s tasks consisted of organizing, packing, and archiving the books. After the end of each twelve-hour workday, Hesse pursued his own work, and he spent his long, idle Sundays with books rather than friends.

Hesse studied theological writings and later Goethe, Lessing, Schiller, and Greek mythology. He also began reading Nietzsche and that philosopher’s ideas of “dual…impulses of passion and order” in humankind was a heavy influence on most of his novels.

By 1898, Hesse had a respectable income that enabled financial independence from his parents.

During this time, he concentrated on the works of the German Romantics, including much of the work from Clemens Brentano, Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, Friedrich Hölderlin and Novalis. In letters to his parents, he expressed a belief that “the morality of artists is replaced by aesthetics.”

During this time, he was introduced to the home of Fräulein von Reutern, a friend of his family. There he met with young people of his own age. His relationships with his contemporaries was “problematic,” in that most of them were now at university. This usually left him feeling awkward in social situations.

In 1896, his poem “Madonna” appeared in a Viennese periodical.

In the autumn, Hesse released his first small volume of poetry, Romantic Songs.

In 1897, a published poem of his, “Grand Valse,” drew him a fan letter. It was from Helene Voigt, who the next year married Eugen Diederichs, a young publisher. To please his wife, Diederichs agreed to publish Hesse’s collection of prose entitled “One Hour After Midnight” in 1898 (although it is dated 1899).

Both works were a business failure. In two years, only 54 of the 600 printed copies of Romantic Songs were sold, and “One Hour After Midnight” received only one printing and sold sluggishly.

Furthermore, Hesse “suffered a great shock” when his mother disapproved of “Romantic Songs” on the grounds that they were too secular and even “vaguely sinful.”

From the autumn of 1899, Hesse worked in a distinguished antique book shop in Basel. Through family contacts, he stayed with the intellectual families of Basel. In this environment with rich stimuli for his pursuits, he further developed spiritually and artistically. At the same time, Basel offered the solitary Hesse many opportunities for withdrawal into a private life of artistic self-exploration, journeys and wanderings.

In 1900, Hesse was exempted from compulsory military service due to an eye condition. This, along with nerve disorders and persistent headaches, affected him his entire life.

In 1901, Hesse undertook to fulfill a long-held dream and travelled for the first time to Italy. In the same year, Hesse changed jobs and began working at the antiquarium Wattenwyl in Basel. Hesse had more opportunities to release poems and small literary texts to journals.

These publications now provided honorariums. His new bookstore agreed to publish his next work, Posthumous Writings and Poems of Hermann Lauscher.

In 1902, his mother died after a long and painful illness. He could not bring himself to attend her funeral, afraid that it would worsen his depression.

Due to the good notices he received for Lauscher, the publisher Samuel Fischer became interested in Hesse and, with the novel “Peter Camenzind”, which appeared first as a pre-publication in 1903 and then as a regular printing by Fischer in 1904, came a breakthrough: from now on, Hesse could make a living as a writer.

The novel became popular throughout Germany.

Sigmund Freud “praised Peter Camenzind as one of his favorite readings.”


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Modern Book Printing from the Walk of Ideas in Berlin, Germany.

“Modern Book Printing” , fourth sculpture (from six) of the Berlin Walk of Ideas on the occasion of 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany.

Unveiling: 21 April 2006 at Bebelplatz, square near the Unter den Linden in front of Humboldt University. It is to commemorate to Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of modern book printing around 1450 in Mainz.

Between Lake Constance and India:

With the literary fame, Hesse married Maria Bernoulli (of the famous family of mathematicians) in 1904, settled down with her in Gaienhofen on Lake Constance, and began a family, eventually having three sons.

In Gaienhofen, he wrote his second novel, “Beneath the Wheel”, which was published in 1906.

In the following time, he composed primarily short stories and poems. His story “The Wolf,” written in 1906–07, was “quite possibly” a foreshadowing of “Steppenwolf”.

His next novel, “Gertrude”, published in 1910, revealed a production crisis. He had to struggle through writing it, and he later would describe it as “a miscarriage”.

Gaienhofen was the place where Hesse’s interest in Buddhism was re-sparked. Following a letter to Kapff in 1895 entitled Nirvana, Hesse had ceased alluding to Buddhist references in his work.

In 1904, however, Arthur Schopenhauer and his philosophical ideas started receiving attention again, and Hesse discovered theosophy. Schopenhauer and theosophy renewed Hesse’s interest in India. Although it was many years before the publication of Hesse’s “Siddhartha” (1922), this masterpiece was to be derived from these new influences.

During this time, there also was increased dissonance between him and Maria, and in 1911 Hesse left for a long trip to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. He also visited Sumatra, Borneo, and Burma, but “the physical experience… was to depress him.”

Any spiritual or religious inspiration that he was looking for eluded him, but the journey made a strong impression on his literary work. Following Hesse’s return, the family moved to Bern (1912), but the change of environment could not solve the marriage problems, as he himself confessed in his novel “Rosshalde” from 1914.

Later Life and Death:

Hesse observed the rise to power of Nazism in Germany with concern.

In 1933, Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann made their travels into exile and, in both cases, were aided by Hesse.

In this way, Hesse attempted to work against Hitler’s suppression of art and literature that protested Nazi ideology. “His third wife ..was Jewish and his opposition to anti-Semitism was expressed publicly long before then.”

Hesse was criticized for not condemning the Nazi party, but his failure to criticize or support any political idea stemmed from his “politics of detachment […] At no time did he openly condemn (the Nazis), although his detestation of their politics is beyond question.”From the end of the 1930s, German journals stopped publishing Hesse’s work, and it was eventually banned by the Nazis.

“The Glass Bead Game” was Hesse’s last novel. During the last twenty years of his life, Hesse wrote many short stories (chiefly recollections of his childhood) and poems (frequently with nature as their theme).

Hesse wrote ironic essays about his alienation from writing (for instance, the mock autobiographies: “Life Story Briefly Told” and “Aus den Briefwechseln eines Dichters”) and spent much time pursuing his interest in watercolours.

Hesse also occupied himself with the steady stream of letters he received as a result of the Nobel Prize, and as a new generation of German readers explored his work. In one essay, Hesse reflected wryly on his lifelong failure to acquire a talent for idleness and speculated that his average daily correspondence was in excess of 150 pages.

He died on 9 August 1962 and was buried in the cemetery at San Abbondio in Montagnola, where Hugo Ball and the great conductor Bruno Walter are also buried.

Some interesting trivia:

In 1919, his marriage had shattered. His wife had a severe episode of psychosis (Herman Hesse begin receiving psychotherapy. This began for Hesse a long preoccupation with psychoanalysis, through which he came to know Carl Jung personally, and was challenged to new creative heights. During a three-week period in September and October 1917, Hesse penned his novel Demian, which would be published following the armistice in 1919 under the pseudonym Emil Sinclair)  but, even after her recovery, Hesse saw no possible future with her.

Their home in Bern was divided, their children were accommodated in pensions and by relatives, and Hesse resettled alone in the middle of April in Ticino.

He occupied a small farm house near Minusio (close to Locarno), living from 25 April to 11 May in Sorengo.

On 11 May, he moved to the town Montagnola and rented four small rooms in a castle-like building, the Casa Camuzzi.

Here, he explored his writing projects further; he began to paint, an activity reflected in his next major story, “Klingsor’s Last Summer”, published in 1920.

This new beginning in different surroundings brought him happiness, and Hesse later called his first year in Ticino the fullest, most prolific, most industrious and most passionate time of my life.

In 1922, Hesse’s novella “Siddhartha” appeared, which showed the love for Indian culture and Buddhist philosophy that had already developed earlier in his life.

In 1924, Hesse married the singer Ruth Wenger, the daughter of the Swiss writer Lisa Wenger and aunt of Méret Oppenheim. This marriage never attained any stability, however.

In 1923, Hesse received Swiss citizenship. His next major works, “Kurgast” (1925) and “The Nuremberg Trip” (1927), were autobiographical narratives with ironic undertones and foreshadowed Hesse’s following novel, “Steppenwolf”, which was published in 1927.

In the year of his 50th birthday, the first biography of Hesse appeared, written by his friend Hugo Ball.

Shortly after his new successful novel, he turned away from the solitude of “Steppenwolf” and married art historian Ninon Dolbin, née Ausländer.

This change to companionship was reflected in the novel Narcissus and Goldmund, appearing in 1930.

In 1931, Hesse left the Casa Camuzzi and moved with Ninon to a large house (Casa Hesse) near Montagnola, which was built according to his wishes.

In 1931, Hesse began planning what would become his last major work, “The Glass Bead Game” (aka Magister Ludi).

In 1932, as a preliminary study, he released the novella “Journey to the East”.

“The Glass Bead Game” was printed in 1943 in Switzerland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

About Steppenwolf:

“Steppenwolf” is the tenth novel by Hermann Hesse.

Originally published in Germany in 1927, it was first translated into English in 1929.

Combining autobiographical and psychoanalytic elements, the novel was named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes.

The story in large part reflects a profound crisis in Hesse’s spiritual world during the 1920s while memorably portraying the protagonist’s split between his humanity and his wolf-like aggression and homelessness.

The novel became an international success, although Hesse would later assert that the book was largely misunderstood.


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(Thank you again Wikipedia)

A tribute to Herman Hesse.


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