Hermann Karl Hesse (2 July 1877 – 9 August 1962) was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Demian, 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.
Hermann Karl Hesse was born on 2 July 1877 in the Black Forest town of Calw in Württemberg, German Empire. His grandparents served in India at a mission under the auspices of the Basel Mission, a Protestant Christian missionary society. His grandfather Hermann Gundert developed and constricted the current grammar in Malayalam language, compiled a Malayalam-English dictionary, and also contributed to the work in translating Bible to Malayalam. Hesse's mother, Marie Gundert, was born at such a mission in India in 1842. In describing her own childhood, she said, "A happy child I was not..." As was usual among missionaries at the time, she was left behind in Europe at the age of four when her parents returned to India.
Hesse's father, Johannes Hesse, the son of a doctor, was born in 1847 in the Estonian town of Paide (Weissenstein). Johannes Hesse belonged to the German minority in the Russian-ruled Baltic region: thus his son Hermann was at birth both a citizen of the German Empire and the Russian Empire. Hermann had five siblings, but two of them died in infancy. In 1873, the Hesse family moved to Calw, where Johannes worked for the Calwer Verlagsverein, a publishing house specializing in theological texts and schoolbooks. Marie's father, Hermann Gundert (also the namesake of his grandson), managed the publishing house at the time, and Johannes Hesse succeeded him in 1893.
Hesse grew up in a Swabian Pietist household, with the Pietist tendency to insulate believers into small, deeply thoughtful groups. Furthermore, Hesse described his father's Baltic German heritage as "an important and potent fact" of his developing identity. His father, Hesse stated, "always seemed like a very polite, very foreign, lonely, little-understood guest. His father's tales from Estonia instilled a contrasting sense of religion in young Hermann. "[It was] an exceedingly cheerful, and, for all its Christianity, a merry world... We wished for nothing so longingly as to be allowed to see this Estonia ... where life was so paradisiacal, so colorful and happy." Hermann Hesse's sense of estrangement from the Swabian petty bourgeoisie further grew through his relationship with his maternal grandmother Julie Gundert, née Dubois, whose French-Swiss heritage kept her from ever quite fitting in among that milieu.
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.
“I believe that for all its patent absurdities life nevertheless has a meaning. I resign myself to being unable to find this ultimate meaning with my reason, but I am prepared to serve it even if it means sacrificing myself.
Hesse observed the rise to power of Nazism in Germany with concern. In 1933, Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann made their travels into exile, each aided by Hesse. In this way, Hesse attempted to work against Hitler's suppression of art and literature that protested Nazi ideology. Hesse's third wife was Jewish, and he had publicly expressed his opposition to anti-Semitism 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 the Nazis eventually banned it.
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 also 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 watercolors. 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 exceeded 150 pages. He died on 9 August 1962, aged 85, and was buried in the cemetery at San Abbondio in Montagnola, where Hugo Ball and the great conductor Bruno Walter are also buried.
At the outbreak of the First
World War in 1914, Hesse registered himself as a volunteer with the Imperial army, saying that he could not sit inactively by a warm fireplace
while other young authors were dying on the front. He was found unfit for combat duty, but was assigned to service involving the care of prisoners of war. While most poets and authors of the war participating countries quickly became embroiled in a tirade
of mutual hate, Hesse, seemingly immune to the general war-enthusiasm of the time, wrote an essay titled "O Friends, Not These Tones" ("O Freunde, nicht diese Töne"),[a] which
was published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, on November 3.In this essay he appealed to his fellow intellectuals not to fall for nationalistic
madness and hatred. Calling for subdued voices and a recognition of Europe's common heritage, Hesse wrote: [...] That love is greater than hate, understanding greater than ire, peace nobler than war, this exactly is what this unholy World
War should burn into our memories, more so than ever felt before. What followed from this, Hesse later indicated, was a great turning point in his life: For the first time, he found himself in the middle of a serious political conflict, attacked
by the German press, the recipient of hate mail, and distanced from old friends. He did receive continued support from his friend Theodor Heuss, and the French writer Romain Rolland, who visited Hesse in August 1915. In 1917, Hesse wrote to Rolland, "The attempt...to apply love to matters political has failed."
This public controversy was not yet resolved when a deeper life crisis befell Hesse with the death of his father on 8 March 1916, the serious illness of his son Martin, and his wife's schizophrenia. He was forced to leave his military service and 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.
By the time Hesse returned to civilian life in 1919, his marriage had shattered. His wife had a severe episode of psychosis, 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 (a.k.a. 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.
“Such faith cannot be commanded; we cannot force it on ourselves. We can only experience it. Those who cannot do so seek faith in the church or in science or in patriotism or socialism, in some quarter where there are ready-made moralities, programs and prescriptions.”
“With regard to pessimism or optimism or philosophies in general, a man who is alive, and especially an artist, cannot readily commit himself to any one. I at least cannot, nor do I ever feel a need of being right; I take pleasure in diversity, including that of opinions and faiths. This prevents me from being a good Christian, for I believe neither that God had only one son nor that belief in that one son is the only way to God or beatitude. Piety always appeals to me, whereas I dislike authoritarian theologies with their claim to exclusive validity.
“I have chosen the way of the egoist or religious man, and regard outward duties as secondary to our duties to our own souls. I feel more strongly than ever that my soul is a small part of all human development and that fundamentally the slightest quiver within us is as important as war and peace in the outward world.
“Like art and poetry, the religions and myths are an attempt on the part of mankind to express in images the ineffable, which you are trying in vain to translate into shallow rationality.
“Freedom from conventions is not synonymous with inner freedom. For the higher type of men, life in the world without rigidly formulated faith is not easier, but far more difficult because they themselves must create and choose the obligations that would govern their lives.
“Grace, or the Tao, surrounds us always. It is the light and it is God Himself. Whenever we are open to the moment, it enters into us, into every child, into every wise man.
“Clarity” and “truth” are words that we often hear used side by side, as if they meant more or less the same thing. Yet they stand for entirely different things! Rarely, very rarely is the truth clear, and even more rarely is clarity true! The truth is almost always complex, obscure, and ambiguous–every statement especially a “clearer” statement does it violence. “Clarity” is always violent, it is a violent attempt to simplify what is many-sided, to make the natural seem understandable and even reasonable. “Clarity” is the virtue of maxims. Maxims are charming, they are useful, educational, witty, informative–but they are never true. Because the opposite of every maxim is also true.
“The man of reason believes that he possesses in himself the meaning of the world and of his life. He transfers to the world and to history the appearance of order and purposefulness”
“Knowledge can be communicated, but wisdom cannot. A man can find it, he can live it, he can be filled and sustained by it, but he cannot utter or teach it. A truth can be spoken or cloaked in words only if it is one-sided. Everything that can be thought in thoughts and spoken in words is one-sided. It is lacking in wholeness, roundness, unity. The world itself, the reality around us and within us, is never one-sided.
“Reason in the right place is a good thing, and those who insist on following instinct or intuition in realms of life where reason is a good guide will usually come to grief; and conversely, I only contend that reason must not be granted total claims or equated with the spirit.
“Thoughtless, absent reading is very much like walking blindfold through beautiful country. We should read, not in order to forget ourselves and our daily lives, but on the contrary, in order to gain a firmer, more conscious, more mature grip on our own lives. We should come to a book not at a frightened schoolboy to a forbidding teacher or as a town drunkard to a schnapps bottle, but as a mountain climber to the Alps or a soldier to an arsenal, not as fugitives from life.”
“Generally speaking, the enemies of good books and of good taste are not those who despise books but those who read anything and everything.
“We shall lose nothing by leaving the manuals, surveys, and histories of philosophies unread; any work by an original thinker gives us more, for it compels us to think for ourselves, trains and enhances our consciousness.”