"Each man's life represents the road toward himself" - On Hermann Hesse's Birthday

2 July 1877 German-language novelist and Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse was born in Calw in Württemberg as the second son of a Baltic German missionary.
"I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me. My story is not a pleasant one; it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams — like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves. Each man's life represents the road toward himself, and attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that — one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can." (Hermann Hesse “Demian")

Hesse grew up in the parochial narrowness of a pietistic household in a southern German small town and the Swiss city of Basel, dropped out of various schools, tried to commit suicide at the age of 15, learned the trade of a mechanic, finally ending up as a counter jumper, first in Tübingen, then in Basel and, after this way of grief, finally managed to publish his first novel Peter Camenzind, a culture-critical bildungsroman, his breakthrough as an author.

His following works are mostly education and coming-of-age novels as well, bound to the language of the 19th century and the writings of Goethe, Hölderlin and Nietzsche, autobiographically tinged, characterised by student – mentor relations of his characters, quest of self and meaning and, after Hesse’s acquaintance with C.G. Jung, full of engagement with myths and symbols, Western and Eastern, ranging from alchemy to Buddhism. In short, a counter-draft to modern times and their “worship of elevators” – a world alien to Hesse and his keen readers, at least for a period of their lives.

Ernst Würtenberger: "Image of Hermann Hesse. Half Length Portrait" (1905)

After receiving the Nobel Prize in literature in 1946, interest in his works began to fade, probably because myths and symbols and a recourse on the 19th century had either been perverted or exhausted and the world was trying to get back to normal and trying to work up and forget. Hesse was rediscovered in the US after his death in 1962, when “normal” asked for several alternative drafts, causing a downright Hesse-boom that swept back to Europe and the German-speaking countries.

Today, Hermann Hesse is one of the most widely read and translated authors of the 20th century, rated in the country of his birth as one of the greatest, or at least best known, writers in German, to be mentioned in the same breath as his 19th century paragons.

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