October 26, 2021

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Biography of Hermann Hesse, German poet and writer

Biography of Hermann Hesse, German poet and writer

Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877 – August 9, 1962) – German poet and writer. Known for his emphasis on human spiritual development, the themes of Hesse’s work are largely reflected in his own life. Popular in its day, especially in Germany, Hesse became very influential throughout the world during the countercultural movement of the 1960s and is now one of the most translated European authors of the 20th century.

Fast facts: Hermann Hesse

Full name: Hermann Karl Hesse

Known for: An acclaimed writer and Nobel laureate whose work is renowned for his personal quest for self-knowledge and spirituality.

Born July 2, 1877 in Kalw, Württemberg, German Empire.

Parents: Marie Gundert and Johann Hesse

Died: August 9, 1962 in Montagnola, Ticino, Switzerland.

Education: Evangelical Theological Seminary of Maulbronn Abbey, Cannstadt Gymnasium, no higher education.

Selected works: Demian (1919), Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (Der Steppenwolf, 1927), Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel, 1943)

Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature (1946), Goethe Prize (1946), Pour la Mérite (1954).

Spouse: Maria Bernoulli (1904-1923), Ruth Wenger (1924-1927), Ninon Dolbin (1931-his death)

Children: Bruno Hesse, Heiner Hesse, Martin Hesse

Notable quote: “What could I tell you that is so valuable, other than that perhaps you are looking too much, which you cannot find as a result of your searches.” (Siddhartha)

Early life and education

Hermann Hesse was born in Calw, Germany, a small town in the Black Forest in the southwest of the country. His biography was unusually varied; his mother, Marie Gundert, was born in India to a family of missionaries, a Franco-Swiss mother and a Swabian German woman; Hesse’s father, Johannes Hesse, was born in present-day Estonia, then under Russian control; Thus, he belonged to the minority of Baltic Germans, and Hermann was a citizen of Russia and Germany at birth. Hesse would characterize this Estonian origin as a strong influence on him and an early source of his nascent interest in religion.

In addition to his difficult past, his life in Calvet was cut short by six years in Basel, Switzerland. His father originally moved to Calw to work for the Calwer Verlagsverein, a publishing house in Calw run by Hermann Gundert that specialized in theological texts and academic books. Johannes married Gundert’s daughter Marie; The family they founded was religious and erudite, language-oriented and, thanks to Father Mari, who was a missionary in India and who translated the Bible into Malayalam, enchanted the East. This interest in Eastern religion and philosophy deeply influenced Hesse’s work.

Already in the first years of his life, Hesse was wayward and difficult in relation to his parents, refusing to obey their rules and expectations. This was especially true for education. Although Hesse was an excellent student, he was stubborn, impulsive, hypersensitive and independent. He was raised in a family of pietists, an offshoot of Lutheran Christianity that emphasizes a personal relationship with God and the piety and virtue of man. He explained that he struggled to fit into the Pietist education system, which he described as “subjugating and breaking the individual,” although he later cited his parents’ pietism as one of the greatest influences on his work.

World War I (1914-1919)

Knulp (1915)

Strange News from Another Star (Merchen, 1919)

Demian (Demian, 1919)

When World War I broke out, Hesse volunteered for the army. He was found unfit for military service due to eye disease and headaches that have plagued him since he experienced depressive episodes; however, he was assigned to work with those who looked after the prisoners of war. Despite this support for hostilities, he remained a staunch pacifist, writing an essay titled “O Friends, Not These Sounds” (“O Freunde, nicht diese Töne”), which encouraged other intellectuals to resist nationalism and militant sentiments. In this essay, for the first time, he found himself embroiled in political attacks, defamation in the German press, receiving hate letters and abandoned by old friends.

As if the belligerent turn in his country’s politics, the brutality of the war itself and the public hatred he felt were not enough to shake Hesse’s nerves, his son Martin fell ill. His illness made the boy extremely temperamental, and both parents were emaciated, and Maria herself began to behave strangely, which later developed into schizophrenia. In the end, they decided to put Martin in a foster home to relieve the stress. At the same time, the death of Hesse’s father left him with a terrible sense of guilt, and the combination of these events led him into a deep depression.

Portrait of Hermann Hesse

Portrait of the German Swiss poet, writer and artist Hermann Hesse. Leemage / Getty Images

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Hesse sought refuge in psychoanalysis. He was referred to JB Lang, one of Carl Jung’s former students, and the therapy was effective enough to allow him to return to Bern after just 12 three-hour sessions. Psychoanalysis was to have a great influence on his life and work. Hesse learned to adjust to life in much healthier ways than before, and was fascinated by the inner life of man. With the help of psychoanalysis, Hesse was finally able to find the strength to pull out his roots and leave marriage, putting his life on a path that would fill him both emotionally and artistically.

Division and performance at Casa Camuzzi (1919-1930)

A Look Into Chaos (Blik ins Chaos, 1920)

Siddhartha (Siddhartha, 1922)

Steppenwolf (1927)

Narcissus and Goldmund (Narcissus and Goldmund, 1930)

When Hesse returned home to Bern in 1919, he decided to give up the marriage. Maria suffered from severe psychosis, and even after her recovery, Hesse decided that she had no future. The house in Bern was divided, the children were sent to boarding houses, and Hesse moved to Ticino. In May, he moved to a castle-like building called Casa Camuzzi. It was here that he entered a period of intense productivity, happiness, and excitement. He began painting, a longtime passion, and began writing his next major work, Klingsors Letzter Sommer (1919). Although the passionate joy that marked this period ended with this narrative, his productivity did not diminish, and in three years he completed one of his most important novellas, Siddhartha, which centered on Buddhist self-discovery and the rejection of Western philistinism.

In 1923, the same year that his marriage was officially dissolved, Hesse renounced German citizenship and became Swiss. In 1924 he married Ruth Wenger, a Swiss singer. However, the marriage was never stable and fell apart just a few years later, the same year he published another of his greatest works, Steppenwolf (1927). Steppenwolf protagonist Harry Haller (whose initials are, of course, in common with Hesse), his spiritual crisis and his sense of unsuitability for the bourgeois world reflect Hesse’s own experience.

Remarriage and World War II (1930-1945)

Journey to the East (Die Morgenlandfahrt, 1932)

The Glass Bead Game, also known as Magister Ludi (Das Glasperlenspiel, 1943)

However, after finishing the book, Hesse turned to the company and married the art historian Ninon Dolbin. Their marriage was very happy, and the themes of camaraderie are presented in Hesse’s next novel, Narziss und Goldmund (1930), which once again traces Hesse’s interest in psychoanalysis. They left Casa Camuzzi and moved into a house in Montagnola. In 1931, it was there that Hesse began planning his last novel, The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel), which was published in 1943.

Hesse later suggested that it was only by working on this work, which took him a decade, that he managed to survive the rise of Hitler and World War II. Although he adhered to the philosophy of detachment, influenced by his interest in Eastern philosophy, and did not approve or criticize the Nazi regime, his decisive rejection of them is beyond doubt. In the end, Nazism opposed everything it believed in: virtually all of its work focuses on the individual, her resistance to authority and finding her own voice in relation to the chorus of others. Moreover, he had previously spoken out against anti-Semitism, and his third wife was Jewish. He was not the only one to notice his conflict with Nazi thought;

Last years (1945-1962)

Of course, Nazi opposition to Hesse did not affect his legacy in any way. In 1946 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. During the last years of his life, he continued to paint, wrote memories of his childhood in the form of stories, poems and essays, and responded to the stream of letters he received from admiring readers. He died on August 9, 1962 at the age of 85 from leukemia and was buried in Montagnola.

King Gustav V presents the Nobel Prize at a ceremony

King Gustav V presents the Literary Prize to the Minister of Switzerland, Dr. Henry Vallotton, on behalf of Hermann Hesse (winner in 1946). Bettmann Heritage

In his life, Hesse was respected and popular in Germany. When Hesse wrote in times of great upheaval, Hesse’s emphasis on the survival of the individual through personal crisis found the close attention of his German audience. However, he was not particularly well-read around the world, despite his status as a Nobel laureate. In the 1960s, Hesse’s work generated a huge resurgence of interest in the United States, where it had previously remained largely unread. Hesse’s themes were of great importance to the countercultural movement in the United States and around the world.

Since then, its popularity has largely continued. Hesse has quite clearly influenced pop culture, for example, in the name of the rock band Steppenwolf. Hesse remains extremely popular with young people, and it is perhaps because of this status that adults and scientists sometimes devalue him. However, it cannot be denied that Hesse’s work, with its emphasis on self-discovery and personal development, has led generations through turbulent years, both personally and politically, and had a great and valuable influence on the popular imagination of the West of the 20th century.