HESSE, Hermann
(German novelist. short-story writer, poet, and essayist,
born 2 July 1877, Calw; died 9 Aug.1962, Montagnola, Switzerland) 

The son of devout parents, Hesse was exposed from childhood to a broad range of religious and philosophical doctrines. The early novels that eventually became important for the world view reflected in his writings range from elements of his immediate Pietistic heritage to the various directions of Eastern thought with which his parents had become familiar while in India. In preparation for a career as a theologian, Hesse was sent to the Latin Grammar School in Göppingen, and then to the Protestant seminary at Maulbronn. His antipathy for the seminary was so great, however, that he ran away in the spring of 1892. Nor did he subsequently adapt any more readily to secular schools. Following abortive mechanic's and shopkeeper's apprenticeships, Hesse successfully completed a training program in the book trade. From 1899 to 1903 he worked as a bookdealer in Basel, Switzerland. When his first novel, Peter Camenzind (1904; Peter Camenzind, 1961), brought him suceess as an author, H. settled in Gaienhofen on Lake Constance. A journey to India in 1911 was the first in a series of important, if disappointing and even painful, personal experiences that shaped H.'s creative life during and after the years of World War I. 

The war itself was especially hidious to H., although during that time he worked with German prisoners and edited a newspaper for them, the Deutsche Internierten-Zeitung. Under the pressures of the prolonged illness of his oldest son and the mental illness of his wife, H. suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1916 he began a two-year period of psychoanalytic therapy administered by a disciple of C. G. Jung (q.v.), an experience that had significance for his subsequent literary works. When his unhappy marriage ended in divorce in 1919, H. moved to Montagnola, becoming a Swiss citizen in 1923. Among the honors H. received for his writings were the Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt and the Nobel Prize, in 1946, and the Peace Prize of the German Bookdealers' Association, in 1955. 

Viewed as a whole, H.'s fiction and poetry are most accurately described as literature of experience. They document Hesse's belief that the role of the writer is neither to explain his age, nor to better it, nor even to teach, but rather to employ the revelation of the author's own sufferings and dreams in opening to the reader the world of images, of the soul, of experience. Accordingly, the course of H.'s literary development was shaped, modified, determined by the areas of personal confrontation and involvement that impressed themselves most deeply upon bis day-to-day existence. The abiding influence of his parents, their ideas and attitudes, called forth in H.'s works repeated expression of reverence for tradition, for middle-class values, for order. The most significant literary focus of his preoccupation with tradition is the realm of personal religions and spiritual experience. H.'s deep love of nature also influenced his writings in several ways. It contributed to a consistent effectiveness and beauty of landscape description that paralleled his considerable achievements in landscape painting. Moreover, it allowed literary models created by earlier nature-oriented writers -among them, Gottfried Keller (1819-1890)- to provide positive stirmulus for the development of his own descriptive technique. On a third level, his feeling for nature led him to seek an appropriate philosophical relationship to it. As a result, he was drawn very early to the writings of Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), Eduard Mörike (1804-1874), and the German romantic poets. 

The influence of romanticism lent to H.'s works the flavor of a search for a universality that comprehends and resolves the manifold and contradicting aspects of the human spirit. Unlike the romantics, however, who sought to define tbe problems of man's existence in terms of man's spiritual unity -or lack thereof- with the rest of the universe, Hesse directed his literary attention toward the more basic problem of man's internal nature. For the works written after 1916, his encounter with Jung's psychoanalysis gave more precise direction to H.'s quest for man's identity. His mature narratives reflect especially an interest in Jung's ideas about introversion versus extroversion, the collective unconscious, idealism, specific symbols, and the fundamental duality of man. Application of Jung's theories enabled H. to explore the traditional problem of Faustian man in much greater depth than had Goethe or subsequent German writers. Under Jung's influence, Hesse began to view all of tbe tragedy of human existence as a product of man's fragmented spiritual nature. Because of H.'s profound skepticism with respect to contemporary life -induced in part by his view of World War II and its aftermath- his characters only rarely achieve the goal of their individual struggles for self-realization: harmonious inner unity. 

Hesse began his literary career as a lyric poet. His Romantische Lieder (1899; romantic poems) and subsequent collections of verse exhibit many qualities that also caracterize his stories and novels. Strongly influenced by romanticism and the folk-poetry tradition, H.'s lyric creations are sensitive, pensive, and melodic. Although their language is simple and unassuming, the poems have a power of expression seldom equaled in 20th-Century German Poetry. In what they convey to the reader, H.'s lyrics are an important compliment to his narrative prosa through their projection and realization of the goals toward which his characters strive. Perhaps no other modern German Poet has so forcefully achieved in his work a productively positive, unclouded resolution of the tension between idealistic striving and the narrow limits of reality. The concept of love is the creative unifying principle upon which this poetic harmony is based. It is an immortal love that appears behind the afflictions and trials of life as a deeply elemental quality of existence itself. The element of love, viewed as true reality buried beneath the facade of appearances, is H.'s personal guide to the secret wellspring of life, his poetic path to inner unity and to God. 

Like Goethe, H. saw himself as a wanderer and seeker. Reprojected that view of his own nature into his major literary figures. All of H.'s novels feature variations on the theme of the quest for personal fulfillment and self-realization. Peter Camenzind, the restless, insatiable wanderer of H.'s first novel, is a sensitive man whose consciousness seeks to assert and articulate itself in the feeling of a precarious connection to the world. Camenzind is the prototype of what later became a relatively standard character in H.'s works: the struggling artist who finds fulfillment in tbe experience of life rather than in his art. The conflicts of H.'s own childhood and youth in provincial Swabia inform much of Camenzind's relationship to the world of his encounters. And yet it is not the psychological penetration of the central character that gives this particular work its artistic power. Rather, it is the intensely personal, vibrantly captivating portraits of nature that draw the reader into the work with irresistible force. The visible dominance of nature tbroughout the work demands that H.'s hero experience fulfillment only in his ultimate return to the natural state symbolized in his final role as a farmer.

The positive, healthy state of nature is contrasted sharply with the destructive influence of civilized culture in H.'s novel Unterm Rad (1906; The Prodigy, 1957). A literary examination of H.'s Maulbronn experience, which reflects his disgust with the constrictions of traditional education. Unterm Rad was the first of H.'s novels to analyze the tensions between the spiritual-intellectual side of the artistic individual and the paralyzing institutions of bourgeois society. In his portrayal of confllicting components of human personality in the contrasting figures of Giebenrath and Heilner Hesse established problem and character patterns that are central to subsequent novels. Certain polarities that H. identified as contending aspects of his own nature generate the story's tension, for example, in Gertrud (1910; Gertrude and I, 1915) and Roßhalde (1914; Rosshalde, 1970), two novels in which H. depicted conflicts between life in art and the demands of marriage. 

With the remarkable novel Demian (1919; Demian, 1923), for which he received -and returned- the Fontane Prize, H. began a series of works that document his so-called "inward journey," a deeply psychological literary reaction to the negative stimuli of the war years. Under the influence of Jung, for whom the only true reality is within the self, H. came to regard the external social and political chaos of his time as a mirror of his own internal confusion. Accordingly, in Demian and subsequent works, H. sought to penetrate to his own identity in a process of psychological sorting and discovery. The results are the most powerful of H.'s novels. 

The overwhelming strength of Demian lies in its portrayal of the semimystical dream-world experience of the demonic abysses of the human soul. The life of the first-person narrator, Emil Sinclair, which H. intended as a protracted symbol for the uncertainty of the era, is visibly Faustian. Sinclair lives a fear-filled existence, torn between the clarity and purity of the morally ordered world of bis bourgeois home and the darkly sinful, sensually seductive realm of the servant girls and workers. The process of his internal struggle is one of self-judgment leading to a cathartic rebirth. Demian, the shadowy alter ego of Sinclair's dreams, enables Sinclair to find himself by teaching him to unite the opposing aspects of existence into a harmonious whole. The strong influence of Goethe's Faust upon the resolution of the central problem is especially apparent in Sinclair's association with Demian's mother, an embodiment of Sinclair's dream ideal of love who is symbolically related to the "mother" archetypes of the second part of Faust.

In its conception and approach, Demian is H.'s most important preliminary study for the internationally popular novel Der Steppenwolf (1972; Steppenwolf, 1929), in which the author carried the Faustian problem of man's fragmented nature to the extreme. One of H.'s most inventive and complex novels, Der Steppenwolf represents a further development of the narrative style employed by Thomas Mann (q.v.) in The Magic Mountain. Der Steppenwolf describes the ,,inward journey" of Harry Haller, a man in whom are combined the dilemmas of Faustian duality multiplied a hundredfold and the timeless situation of the suffering outsider in search of a place for himself within a society to which he does not belong. In numerous respects Haller is a composite of earlier H. figures, and as such a many-sided symbol for H. himself. Nevertheless, unlike predecessors such as Emil Sinclair, Haller only glimpses the end of his quest-symbolized here in the ,,immortals," another variation on Goethe's ideal archetypes. In the magical theater sequence, in which truth emerges from illusion, Haller's belief in the immortals enables him temporarily to transcend the limitations of time and to scan the hidden corners of his own soul. Yet the inability to assimilate the entire world into his being causes him to fall short of permanent internal harmony. In the psychological and expressionistic imagery employed to underscore the workings of opposing civilized and animalistic tendencies in Harry Haller's character, H. exposed the neuroses of his entire generation. 

Der Steppenwolf exbibits literary power and depth unequaled in H.'s other major "inward journey" novels of the period: Siddhartha (1923; Siddhartha, 1951), a lyric novel set in the time of Buddha that describes the path to internal harmony via asceticism -a major literary fruit of H.'s journey to India in 1911; Narziß und Goldmund (1930; Death and the Lover, 1932; new tr., Narcissus and Goldmund, 1968), H.'s most balanced novel, featuring at tempted resolution of the polarities of existence in Goldmund's lifelong quest for the archetypal "mother"; and Die Morgenlandfahrt (1932; The Journey to the East, 1957), a narrative that reworks themes from Der Steppenwolf in its portrayal of the figurative pilgrimage to the East of a timeless brotherhood of individuals in search of the light of truth. 

Just as H.'s novels document the progress of the author's own search for identity, inner unity, and self-understanding, so they also present the course of his attempts to arrive at an ultimate symbolic representation of the real nature and destiny of man. Both of those strivings found their culmination in the symbolism of the futuristic utopia portrayed in Hesse's final master piece, Das Glasperlenspiel (1943; Magister Ludi, 1949; new tr., The Glass Bead Game 1969). In the symbol of the Castalian Order bead garne of the early twenty-third century, a transcendent form of spiritual and intellectual discipline and meditation featuring a synthesis of universal values from all the arts and sciences, Hesse described his vision of a possible state of culturally ordered existence based upon self-denying spiritual austerity that might evolve in the ashes of a civilization destroyed by irresponsible mass production, narrow nationalism, and militarism. The major literary themes and problems of H.'s novels and stories are examined once more in an analysis and criticism of culture that is generated around the bead-game symbol, and in what is actually a discussion of thie possibility and the desirability of Castalia's eventual existence. With grand irony, H. employed the account of Josef Knecht's life -his early studies, introduction to the bead game, entry into the Castalian Order, final mastery of the game, withdrawal from the Order in search of active rather than contemplative humanism- to reveal the incompatibility of a static cultural ideal with the creative vitality of the individual, thereby proclaiming his own true identity and defining the real values toward which his search for self-understanding had led him. 

In the framework of his oeuvre as a whole, H.'s shorter fiction can be viewed as minor ex- periments with variations on the "inward journey" concept. Some of them are closely related to the author's nonliterary activities. In "Klingsors letzter Sommer" (1920; "Klingsor's Last Summer," 1970), for example, Hesse employed the style of his own painting to reveal how the artist Klingsor produces with Van Gogh-like passion and color an expressionistic panorama of his personal inner landscape. Other short works explore themes treated more successfully in H.'s novels. "Klein und Wagner" (1920; Klein and Wagner) carries the problem of psychological polarity to a destructive extreme in the tale of a man who lives a Jekyll and Hyde existence as a conscientious official/unscrupulous murderer. "Kinderseele" (1920; the soul of a cbild) is an additional document of H.'s early preoccupation with the problems of the adolescent who is torn between middle-class morality and sin. With only one or two exceptions, H.'s short stories are artistically less satisfying than his novels. 

Many qualities of H.'s creations cause him to stand out among German writers of tbe 20th century.

Despite his obvious reliance upon elements of tradition and his literary kinship to other important modern novelists, especially Thomas Mann, the lyrical quality of his prose and the vitality and color of his nature studies set him apart from other authors. At the same time, the intense psychological penetration of his characters and the originality with which he approached traditional themes and the timeless problems of his own era combine to make him an important spokesman not only for his own "lost generation" but also for future generations that must still make their own journey to individual and social fulfillment. 

Further Works: Eine Stunde hinter Mitternacht (1899); Die hinterlassenen Schriften und Gedichte von Hermann Lauscher (1902); Gedichte (1902); Boccaccio (1904); Franz von Assisi (1904); Diesseits (1907); Nachbarn (1908); Unterwegs (1911); Umwege (1912); Aus !ndien (1913); In der alten Sonne (1914; In the Old Sun, 1914); Knulp

(1915; Knulp, 1971); Musik der Einsamen (1915); Am Weg (1915); Brief ins Feld (1916); Schön ist die Jugend (1916; Youth, Beautiful Youth, 1955); Kleiner Garten (1919); Märchen (1919; Strange News from Another Star, and Other Tales, 1972); Zarathustras Wiederkehr (1919); Gedichte des Malers (1920); Wanderung (1920; Wandering, 1972); Blick ins Chaos (1921);

Ausgewählte Gedichte (1921); Italien

(1923); Sinclairs Notizbuch (1923); Psychologia Balnearia; oder, Glossen eines Badener Kurgastes (1924; repub. as Der Kurgast, 1925); Kurzgefaßter Lebenslauf (1925);

Prosa (1925); Piktors Verwandlungen

(1925); Bilderbuch (1926); Die Nürnberger Reise (1927); Betrachtungen (1928; Reflections, 1974); Krisis (1928; Crisis, 1975); Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur (1929); Trost der Nacht (1929); Der Weg nach Innen (1931); Kleine Welt (1933); Fabulierbuch (1935); Das Haus der Träume (1936); Stunden im Garten (1936); Gedenkblätter (1937); Neue Gedichte (1937); Orgelspiel (1937); Die Gedichte (1942); Berthold

(1945); Der Pfirsichbaum (1945);

Traumfährte (1945); Der Europäer (1946); Krieg und Frieden (1946; If the War Gees On, 1971); Frühe Prosa (1948); Briefe (1951); Späte Prosa (1951); Gesammelte Dichtungen (6 volss, 1952); Zwei Idyllen (1952); Engadiner Erlebnisse (1953); Beschwörungen (1955); Gesammelte Schriften (7 vols., 1957): Bericht an die Freunde (1961); Traktat vom Steppenwolf (1961; Treatise on the Steppenwolf, 1975); Cavaliere Huscher und andere Erzählungen (1963); Ein Blatt von meinem Baum (1964); B. H.-Thomas Mann:

Briefwechsel (1968; The H./Mann Letters, 1975); Mein Glaube (1971; My Belief, 1974); Gesammelte Briefe (1973). 

Further volumes in english:
Poems (1970)
Autobiographical Writings (1972)
Stories of Five Decades (1972)
Tales of Student Life (1976)
Pictor's Metamorphoses, and Other Fantasies(1982)

Ball, H., H. B. (1947)
Schmid, M., H. H. (1947)
Brunner, J. W., H. H.: The Man and His World as Revealed in His Works (1957)
Mileck, J. H. H. and His Critics (1958)
Rose, B. Faith from the Abyss: H. H.'s Way from Romanticism to Modernity (1965)
Ziolkowski, T., The Novels of H. H. (1965)
Ziolkowski, T., H. H.(1966)
Serrano, M., C. G. Jung and H. H.(1966)
Boulby, M., H. H., His Mind and Art(1967)
Baumer, F., H. H. (1969)
Field, G. W., H. H. (1970)
Zeller, B., Portrait of H.(1971)
Reichert, H. W., The impact of
Nietzsche on H. H. (1972)
Ziolkowski, T., ed., H.: A Collection of Critical Essays (1973)
Norton, R. C. H. H.'s Futuristic Ideal ism (1973)
Glenn, J., H. H.'s Short Fiction(1974)
Sorell, w., H. H. (1974)
Casebeer, E. F., H. H. (1976)
Mileck, J., H. H.: Biography, Bibliography(1977)
Mileck, J., H. H,: Life and Art (1978)
Liebmann, J. ed., H. H.: A Collection of Criticism (1978)
Freedman R., H. H. (1978)
Fickert, R. J., H. H.'s Quest (1978)


The secret of H.'s work lies in the creative power of his poetic similes, in the "magic theater" of the Panoramas of the soul that he conjures up before the eyes and ears of the world. It lies in the identity of idea and appearances that, to be sure, his work -like any work of human hands- can do no more than suggest. But in H.'s work the asymptotic approximation reaches a point that few beside him can claim to have reached. In suggesting this identity H. H. becomes the mediator of what cannot be said, the prophet of what remains silent, and time and again his creative spontaneity vanquishes the arbitrariness of existence through his "ability to live by the strength of a faith."

Hugo Ball, H. H. (1947), p. 271 

His struggle with the basic problems of his life, with the dichotomy of mind and soul, thus leads the poet toward a biocentric world view instead of the logocentrism that has dominated the attitudes of modern European man since the time of the Renaissance.

In the narrative Die Morgenlandfahrt . . . there is evidence of an impending change in H.'s atti tudes, and in the poem "Besinnung" that change is first given a conceptually clear formulation. Meditation becomes H. H.'s major concern. It assures him the harmonious style of the life of reason imbued with a vital warmth, whose major stress, however, undergoes in Glasperlenspiel a progressively apparent shift from the element of warmth to that of reason. The world view of the aging poet, whose power of imagination revolves around the central harmony, becomes progressively logocentric. The Castalian harmony is not -as Goethe's was- an organic growth. It is the fruit of self-discipline, forced into being by a strict monastic code, by meditation, by ascetic self-control exercised under the rules and regulations of sober vigilance, and by the most meticulous exclusion of all external influences from the inner core of the soul. This Castalian harmony is a mask that conceals the face of the wolf of the steppe.

The romanticist H. has thus a classicist H. as his next-door neighbor, and the more the Poet approaches the classical ideal of harmony, the more logocentric his world view becomes.

Max Schmid, H. H. (1947), p. 223 

The extraordinary consistency of his opposition to the political course of his country from 1914 until 1945 -in which the total attitude is not gradually evolved but stands there clear and whole from the outset- is an impressive (and rare enough) phenomenon in German intellectual life of this period. But always the message is in fact that of Demian. The tract Zarathustra's Return (1919), for instance, which tries and inevitably fails to recapture the authentic Nietzschean note, preaches the attainment of individuality and freedom through the acceptance of fate, exhorts German youth to eschew self-pity, and requires them to seek their god not in external slogans but in their own hearts.

Within the heart, however, lies chaos- especially the dissolution of every pseudo-objective moral canon; and the acceptance of chaos is combined with the exercise of a most sensitive conscience -this is the antinomy on which thenceforward H.'s moral outlook is based. The process which he calls "Erwachen" (awakening) shatters the shell of convention and opens the Way Within (Weg nach Innen); and this Way ambiguously and profoundly, leads at one and the same time to the stringency of extreme responsibility and to an archic freedom of the self. 

Mark Boulby, H. H. (1967), p. 83 

When considered as an ensemble, the novels from Demian to Journey to the East, with their various emphasized antinomies, bear a more balanced and less contradictory relationship with each other than one might otherwise expect. Many of the critical controversies concerning them have stemmed from the fact that commentators have tended to look upon each as a separate and final utterance rather than as the illumination of this or that facet of an interconnected and developing complex of ideas and problems. In regard to H.'s ideas on the future it can similarly be said that within an intriguing and sometimes bewildering melange of overlapping and intertwining concepts having to do with times and states to come, one can distinguish basic common directions.

A primary time-related characteristic shared by all of these novels is their renunciation of stasis. which evidences itself in the concept of dynamic, sequential occurrence as the chief impulse of both the plots and, particularly, of their open endings. As the product, so to speak, of this sequentiality the future stands in a sense as a goal in itself-a goal in no place clearly defined, and yet as palpable as any higher spiritual ideal can be.

Roger C. Norton, H. H.'s Futuristic Idealism (1973), p. 69 

The Steppenwolf, one of H.'s most popular novels

. . is as disconcerting as it is powerful in its structure and in the strength with which it indicts an era of jazz and loud-mouthed lies, a sham world in which the sensibitities of man are tested and crucified. Like H., the Steppenwolf is an outsider living on the edge of reality. Wrestling with his despair, groping for his innocence and his beliefs in a life of lost values, he seeks to find himself. His bearings are those of a bourgeois, but the stamp of his soul spells the anathema of the outsider. The city in which the novel's hero, Harry Haller, seems to be lost, is a symbol of unrelatedness. Someone puts a pamphlet into his hand, "The Treatise on the Steppenwolf," in which he finds the analysis of himself. There is his split nature, being man and wolf, kind and wild, full of love and tenderness as much as baring his wickedness and savagery. God and the Devil are in these people, "the capacity for happiness and the capacity for suffering; and in just such a state of enmity and entanglement were the wolf and man in Harry."

Walter Sorell, H. H. (1974), pp. 45-46 

H.'s attachment to nature was intimate and long. Nature was his childhood wonderland and his boyhood playground; she became for him the refuge she is for his Peter Camenzind, and the source of solace and spiritual rejuvenation she is for his St. Francis of Assisi; her ephemeral beauty was a poignant reminder of man's mortality, and her authenticity exemplified H.'s conception of self-will . . . and his associated ideal of self-living Nature was also a lasting creative inspiration, remained a common theme in H.'s writing and painting, and became his most characteristic back drop and metaphor. Water is primordial matter, rivers are life in all its flux, and fish a prehuman stage of evolution; forests are preculture and the roving wolf is man's instinctual self; gardens are a paradise, flowers and butterflies epitomize life's lasting beauty and its evanescence, and birds are associated with the soul: nature's seasons are man's stages of ... and night is the mother- and day the father-principle; trees are life's stoic outsiders, mountains its imperturbable observers, and clouds are the blue flower of H.'s early romanticism, a symbol of man's eternal longing and of his soul's endless quest for a Heimat home.

Soseph Mileck, H. H. (1978), p. 12 

H.'s inner landscape had become the arena of his life, the stage on which his anxieties were directly exposed. He molded a form that he thought commensurate with this condition and found an adequate symbol in the modern city.

Steppenwolf was the first and actually the only work by H. in which the entire action takes place in a contemporary metropolis. In almost all of his other work the scene was nature or the Middle Ages or a symbolic Orient. For this choice of the city he was to be attacked by many of his followers, but it agreed with his experience. The combination of Zurich and Basel that he used to develop his symbolic city was designed to expose the individual and collective neuroses H. viewed as symptomatic of his time. Its dehumanized mass culture he had already condemned in his travelogue Journey to Nuremberg . . . in which he had assailed the degradation of ancient Nuremberg by commerce and industry. The tone of the city is set by the "music of doom." Among its tenements in its boulevards lit up by electric lights, its automobiles and clanging streetcars, its modish shops and bars, H. sensed the temptation to which sensual man is subject, as well as the premonition of his anonymous death.

Ralph Freedman, H. H. (1978), pp. 277-78