Hermann Hesse
(1877-1962)

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.

During the 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.