Sunday, January 15, 2012

January Classic Challenge: Steppenwolf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hermann_Hesse_1927_Photo_Gret_Widmann.jpg
photo via Wikipedia
Hermann Hesse in 1927, when he wrote Steppenwolf

Hesse was born in 1877 in Calw in the Black Forest. He travelled a lot and lived in a lot of different places, in Italy, India, Germany, Switzerland. He finally settled in Italy in the small village of Montangnola where he lived until his death in 1962.

Here's a handwritten page of Steppenwolf:
from Hermann Hesse by Klaus Walther
source
He writes a form of Kurrent, old German handwriting. I can read that, but I often have to take a guess at the exact word.

Steppenwolf is probably his best known novel. My favourite Hesse novel is Narcissus and Goldmund
and Siddharta is also popular.
Hesse was also a watercolour artist.
from Hermann Hesse by Klaus Walther
source


Hesse has a much less elaborate style than Thomas Mann for example, so it's far easier to follow him, but that doesn't make his writing simple or undemanding, far from it. I read Steppenwolf once before and I hated it, I was just plain bored by it. This time around I found that I had much more understanding for Harry Haller, who feels like he doesn't belong in this world. He calls himself Steppenwolf, an animal who has just scorn for civilisation and all the things it brings, but he feels drawn to it at the same time, taking residence in a nice middle-class house for example.

The book is very much about Hermann Hesse himself, who was having a serious mid-life crisis when he wrote it. There are many parallels between Hesse and Harry Haller, like the restless life they lead and the love-hate for anything bourgeois. It's probably Hesse's most controversial book because it features quite a lot of sex and drugs - the reason for it's success in the 70s in particular and also the reason for it being banned from libraries for example (and shame on any librarians who did it!).

The Steppenwolf needs to find a balance between his two souls and the first step is to recognise that there are many more than just two - here's the influence of Sigmund Freud's theories. Another influence is that of Buddhism, a topic that Hesse already explored in Siddharta. The book was written between the two great wars, when a whole generation was feeling out of place, but I think that each generation can find itself here, which is why the book is still so popular.

My second book for the Classics Challenge

Reviews 2012

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