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Thomas Mann remarked of The Steppenwolf that it was a book not inferior in its experimental boldness to Ulysses or Les Fauxmonnayeurs [The Counterfeiters]. Certainly it depends for its effect upon an artistic principle very different from that which informs Siddhartha. The extremely conscious structure, the massive intrusions of reflective commentary through the bourgeois narrator, through the tractate [treatise], through Harry's obsessional process of self-diagnosis, the discourses of Hermine, Pablo, and the chess player, and a speculation about music as a German heritage in which Harry's reflection all but cracks the taut framework of the novel-all this shows the bent of the book.... The Steppenwolf, one must sum up, is an act of faith
imposing form on chaos, time on space, and music on life... by the apotheosis of irony.

Mark Boulby in Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art, 1967

In much of his post-war fiction prior to [Steppenwolf], Hesse's rejection of contemporary civilization had been negative. His heroes were made to withdraw from its values either into the Orient or into an oddly anachronistic world compounded of the Middle Ages and the romantic nineteenth century prior to the industrial revolution. But Der Steppenwolf uses the theme of the artist's alienation directly by dwelling on the hero's encounters within the hostile world itself. It is Hesse's only major work to deal exclusively with a twentieth-century urban environment and to exploit its major symbols: jazz music, asphalt streets, electric lights, bars, motion pictures, and night clubs.... Der Steppenwolf views urban life as symbolic of modern
man's cultural and psychological disintegration. Signifying an important, if passing, phase in Hesse's work, it replaces withdrawal with revolt. It expresses the artist's rebellion against a humorless culture.

Ralph Freedman, The Lyrical Novel, 1963


The Steppenwolf concept... was immediately intertwined with Hesse's own feelings about himself as a man, but basically it remained a construct for a book. It was the key by which his life gained entry into his art. Hermann Hesse, who felt isolated and depressed, was the person. His Steppenwolf-protagonist, Harry Haller, who played with these feelings in art, became the persona. In the curious metamorphosis that transforms a life into a novel, the pathology of the first became the imagination of the second. The two are not identical. Steppenwolf is indeed the record of a crisis, but it is also more than that. It is a crisis transformed. The personal origins of the novel... may be found in Hesse's inability to re-establish a coherent personal life after his break with the past in 1919... It was a time of physical and psychic pain, accompanied by a sense of spiritual emptiness, a conviction... that he had once again lost his creative powers. This psychic matter, which seems to have molded him as a person, Hesse clearly experienced in psychoanalytic terms, despite his disclaimer.... Harry Haller's world is largely within-the Magic Theater and its strange
protagonists are part of his psyche-and the novel constantly tests the internal against an external reality....
Haller's pilgrimage resembles that of psychoanalytic education. He seeks his ascent, and experiences his failure, among mirrors... which reflect various aspects of himself.

Ralph Freedman, "Person and Persona, the Magic Mirrors of Steppenwolf," in Hesse: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1973


The Hesse phenomenon has also brought the literary critics to the barricades. Stephen Koch, writing in the New Republic (July 13, 1968), points out that the young generation's "capacity for cultural co-option scares the hell out of a lot of people, myself sometimes included." While conceding that "the final third of Steppenwolf is one of the great moments of modern literature," Koch asserts that "Hesse's thought is irretrievably adolescent, so that in his chosen role of artist of ideas, he is inevitably second-rate...." Koch is
annoyed not so much at Hesse himself, who "despite his faults... is a graceful and generally unpretentious artist." He is dismayed, rather, by what he regards as Hesse's pernicious influence on the young, who had adopted him as their spiritual leader. George Steiner, reporting on the Hesse vogue in The New Yorker (January 18, 1969), concedes that there are certain "memorable passages" in Steppenwolf and singles out The Glass Bead Game... as "the masterful exception" in Hesse's work. But like Koch, Steiner is not really talking about Hesse at all. What bothers Steiner, straight from a visit to a hippie commune in Haight-Ashbury, is the fact that "The young have read little and compared less. Stringency is not their forte. Like prayer bells and beads, like pot and love-ins, Hesse seems to offer ecstasy and transcendence on the easy-payment plan." ...It should be readily evident that Hesse criticism cannot be dissociated wholly from the Hesse cult among the young, for to a conspicuous extent much recent criticism is a direct response to that cult-to a sociological situation, not a literary one...

Theodore Ziolkowski, Introduction, Hesse: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1973


Hesse is, by any severe artistic or intellectual standards, a minor writer, although not an uninteresting one if regarded with proper skepticism and a sufficient knowledge of his context. For all his high-mindedness and humaneness, his consciousness unwittingly reflects ideological positions that have had catastrophic consequences.... There is always a kind of shrinkage in Hesse from the consequences of the doctrines he is
experimenting with; they are blunted by crossing them with incompatible doctrines, or they are made ultimately inconsequential by being placed in a play of the imagination that is intransitive because it is hermetically sealed from the detested world outside. His effect is to sugar-coat the dynamite of the German irrational tradition, and there is plenty of evidence that when that tradition is turned into pablum, those who overindulge in it are likely to wake up with a cosmic stomach ache.

Jeffrey L. Sammons, "Hermann Hesse and the Over-Thirty Germanist" in Hesse: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1973

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