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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Author Information -Hermann Hesse
Born in1877 in Wirtemberg, a town in the Black Forest, Hermann Hesse is ranked among the great masters of contemporary literature. Coming from a family of missionaries on both sides, Hesse was intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Protestant pastor and missionary; however, at an early age, he began to rebel against the life proscribed for him and sought a nontraditional path. Even though his father remained an inspiring example of living faith, young Hesse sensed the discrepancy between his father's practices and beliefs. He also perceived the hypocrisy, which ruled most of the institutions at the time, especially in educational institutions, where mediocrity was embraced by an authoritarian establishment.
Throughout his younger years, Hesse rebelled against traditional academic education and eventually ended up leaving his formal education behind to work as a bookseller. It was during this time that he developed his mind by becoming a voracious reader. He also began to write poetry. In 1903, Hesse quit his job and devoted his time to writing books, living most of the time in Basel, Switzerland. He wrote a large quantity of literature between 1904-1912, including short story collections, novels, and the production of a liberal weekly entitled Marz.
Hesse's first novel, Peter Camenzind, was published in 1904; it reflects the author's early life in Basel and Swabia. He next published Gertrude, another novel about a young man; in this one a musician discovers the secret of artistic existence. It was during this period that Hesse married Maria Bernouelli and lived on Lake Constance in Switzerland. He also traveled to India in 1911; it was here that he received the inspiration for Siddhartha (1922) and The Journey to the East (1931).
The years from 1912-1919 were difficult ones for Hesse. There were various illnesses and deaths in the family, including his wife's madness and his father's death. He was also troubled by the outbreak of World War I. As a result, he became involved in psychoanalysis and virtually stopped writing. Although he did not fight in World War I because of poor eyesight, he did work on behalf of freeing German prisoners of war. He also became an adamant war resister and worked heavily with other progressives in publishing anti-war polemics.
Hesse's psychoanalysis with Dr. Lang and Dr. Jung, the two leading psychoanalysts of the day, influenced his later writing, which displayed a more introspective, spiritual nature. His travels to India and study of Eastern thought also led to greater introspection. His love of music, inherited from his mother, also influenced his writing.
In 1919, as a protest against German militarism, Hesse moved to Switzerland, where he lived in self- imposed exile in a villa outside a small village until his death in 1962. It was here where Hesse embarked on his own journey of self-realization and where he produced his best known books, such as Demian, Klein and Wagner, Klingsor's Last Summer, Steppenwolf, and The Glass Bead Game.
Stylistically, Demian (1919) signaled Hesse's definite break with his early regionalism and impressionism and his engagement with Jung's theories. Another work, Klein and Wagner (1919-20,) tells the story of a man who can cope neither with the exigencies of his existence nor with the newly awakened sensuousness of his subconscious. The giving of oneself, "letting oneself fall," is also the predominant theme of Klingsor's Last Summer (1919).
In his next book Siddhartha, Hesse achieved quite a different meaning, although even this story did not provide his final answer to the problem of existence. Steppenwolf (1927) has a hero called Harry Haller, whose initials are significantly those of Hermann Hesse; the book has been compared to Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. In The Glass Bead Game (1943, he sought to create a spiritual atmosphere in which he could live, breathe, and express the resistance of the spirit. Almost all of Hesse's novels are semi- autobiographical and influenced by the Romantic subjectivism of Goethe as well as the Bildungsroman (the novel of development or what is commonly called "coming-of-age").
Except for The Glass Bead Game, Hesse wrote very little after 1931. He published a few poems, essays, letters, and political commentary on the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria. He also worked on a new edition of Steppenwolf. In 1946 he won the Nobel Prize in literature for The Glass Bead Game. His works also began to be widely translated into other European and non-European languages. Many critics consider him to be the most successful novelist in capturing the essence of Eastern thought and inner peace.