Biography of Hermann Hesse

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The German-Swiss writer Hermann Hesse, born in Calw, Germany, July 2, 1877, died on Aug. 9, 1962, was awarded the NOBEL PRIZE for literature in 1946. Determined by the age of 13 “to be a poet or nothing,” Hesse at first wrote derivative, romantic poems and stories of littlemerit. In his earliest novels, Peter Camenzind (1904) and Beneath the Wheel (1906), which expressed his long-smoldering resentment of his pious and repressive upbringing, he pulled himself out of the rut and won success.

The first phase of his writing, which began with the neoromantic treatment of the artist as a social outcast, ended with the realistic Rosshalde (1914). At the beginning of World War I, the strain of hispacifist beliefs and domestic crises led him to undertake psychoanalysis with a follower of Carl Gustav Jung. Jungian psychology gave his work a new dimension; Demian (1919), Siddhartha (1922), and Steppenwolf (1927) also reveal the influence of Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Spengler, and Buddhist mysticism. These novels are based on the conviction that Western civilization is doomed and that man must express himself in order to find his own nature. A third phase began in 1930. Narziss und Goldmund (1930) balances the artist’s rebellion against the hierarchic continuity of social behavior. In Journey to the East (1932) and TheGlass Bead Game (1943) the quest for freedom conflicts with tradition and leads to personal sacrifice suffused with optimism.

Hesse did not write any novels after 1943 but continued to publish essays, letters, poems, reviews, and stories. From 1912 he lived in Switzerland, of which he became a naturalized citizen in 1923. Hesse’s novels became immensely popular during the 1950s in the English-speaking world, where their criticism of bourgeois values and interest in Eastern religious philosophy and Jungian psychology echoed the preoccupations of the younger generation.

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