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60th Anniversary Of The Death Of Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

A Beautiful Dream

Along with Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig, Hermann Hesse is one of the world’s most-read 20th-century German-language writers. His books have been translated into more than 60 languages and around 150 million copies have been distributed

Hermann Karl Hesse is one of the most remarkable European authors of the 20th century. His thinking integrated both idealism and practicality, the great treasure of a deliberate mind with spiritual power. He grew up deeply thoughtful, and developed an expression of experiential knowledge derived entirely from the diverse aspects of his own life.

Hesse was born in the Black Forest town of Calw, Wurttemberg in the German empire on 2nd July 1877. His father, Johannes Hesse, hailed from Estonia, which at that time was ruled by Russia, while his mother, Marie Gundert was born to missionary parents. As a citizen and also as a writer, Hermann Hesse belonged both to Russia and Germany. In all of his works the sources of inspiration seemed affected by the places where he spent his years. The idea of West and East is quite evident in his books, in his philosophical musings and theological concepts.

He attended school for a short time in Goppingen and later entered the Maulbronn seminary in 1891. Though a model student, he was unable to adapt and left less than a year later.

A visit to India seemed to impact Hesse’s life forever. He began to develop a belief in spiritualism and a fascination with Buddha’s journey towards enlightenment, which later inspired him to write Siddhartha.

Hermann Hesse’s novels were always about soul searching and finding the true meaning of life, which began with his visit to India. He wrote one book after another, all exploring an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality

Published in 1992, Siddharta is the story of the journey of a man who leaves everything behind to attain the real purpose of life. The principle of the novel was the search for self-realisation by a young Brahman named Siddhartha. Realising the contradictions between truth and what he had been taught, he renounces his happy life to travel, to find out about pain and suffering. The book took Hesse’s fame to great heights, became an international hit and was translated into many languages.

Another of his books, Steppenwolf (1927), which was first published in German, also follows a man’s path to find himself and the purpose of his life. Some of his friends and readers criticised the novel for an absence of morality in its open portrayal of sex and drug use, a criticism that indeed remained the primary rebuff to the novel for many years. But this novel, which reflected the crisis in Hesse’s spiritual world in the 1920s, still went on to become an international success.

It was said that Hermann Hesse’s novels were always about soul searching and finding the true meaning of life, which began with his visit to India. He wrote one book after another, all exploring an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.

His first novel, Peter Camenzind (1904) has a timeless resonance and farsightedness, and deals with paradigms of both the old and modern world. It follows the story of a young man growing up in times of hardship and his spiritual journey through life. It is brutally ethical and beautiful and it is said that its publication attracted a lot of young minds in Germany, as the country was going through profound changes at that time. Demian, published in 1919, focused on various aspects of ‘psychoanalysis’, the core of which is the belief that all people possess unconscious thoughts, feelings, desires and memories. This book was all about living in two worlds, one being illusion and the other reality, and about the conflict between a young man’s desires and his strict morals.

The novel that brought him the most attention was his last one, The Glass Bead Game (1943). The novel’s context, in a time of distress in Germany following the outbreak of World War II, was crucial in its narrative about the widespread German notion at that time of shame towards their motherland, which emerges prominently as a theme. It also focuses on meditation, self-reflection and spiritualism, and their impact on German youth. The Swedish Academy has said that ‘this novel occupies a special place in Hesse’s work’.

Because of the focus on self-discovery in most of his work, his books have connected with audiences worldwide. His huge popularity in Germany gave him a name and fame, before spreading to the United States. Hesse made his own profound analysis of life based on the multi-faceted cultural influences he had inherited. He continues to be extremely popular among young people.

Hesse made his own profound analysis of life based on the multi-faceted cultural influences he had inherited. He continues to be extremely popular among young people

In 1946, Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his outstanding work. In 1950, he received the Wilhelm Rabbe Literature Prize, and in 1955, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, among many other awards.

Hesse is undoubtedly among those authors who have communicated ways of understanding the world through his books, as all his works were born from the real world, its emotions and the proportions that we as humans ourselves find in life.

Truly inspiring and extraordinary, we remember Hermann Hesse on the 145th anniversary of his birth.

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