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MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

Born in1877 in Wirtemberg, a town in the Black Forest, Hermann Hesse is ranked among the great masters of contemporary literature. Coming from a family of missionaries on both sides, Hesse, throughout his younger life, intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Protestant minister and missionary. He then began to rebel against the religious life prescribed for him and sought a nontraditional path. Even though his father remained an inspiring example of faith throughout his life, Hesse sensed the discrepancy between his father's beliefs and practices. He also perceived the hypocrisy that ruled most of the institutions at the time, especially in educational institutions, where mediocrity was embraced by an authoritarian establishment. As a result, Hesse rebelled against traditional higher education and left his formal education behind. He worked at various jobs during his twenties, including a book seller, an antique dealer and a mechanic. He also became a voracious reader and began to devote himself to writing. Spending most of his time in Basel, Switzerland, Hesse wrote a large quantity of literature between 1904-1912, including short story collections, novels, and the production of a liberal weekly entitled Marz. It was also during this period that Hesse married Maria Bernouelli.


Hesse's first novel, Peter Camenzind, was published in 1904; it reflects the author's early life in Basel and Swabia. He next published Gertrude, a novel in which a young musician discovers the secret of artistic existence. He also traveled to India in 1911; it was here that he received the inspiration for Siddhartha (1922) and The Journey to the East (1931). After returning from India, Hesse had a difficult period, from 1912-1919, and produced only one novel, Knulp (1915). During this time, there were various tragedies in the family, including his wife's madness and his father's death. He was also troubled by the outbreak of World War I. As a result, he became involved in psychoanalysis and virtually stopped writing. Although he did not fight in World War I because of poor eyesight, he did work on behalf of freeing German prisoners of war. He also became an adamant war resister and worked heavily with other progressives in publishing anti-war polemics. In 1919, as a protest against German militarism, he permanently moved to Switzerland, where he lived in self- imposed exile until his death in 1962. It was in his villa in Switzerland where Hesse embarked on his own journey of self- realization and where he produced his best known books, such as Demian, Klein and Wagner, Klingsor's Last Summer, Steppenwolf, and The Glass Bead Game.

Hesse's psychoanalysis with Dr. Lang and Dr. Jung, the two leading psychoanalysts of the day, influenced his later writing, which displayed a more introspective, spiritual nature. His travels to India and study of Eastern thought also led to greater introspection. Finally, his love of music, inherited from his mother, also influenced his writing. Beginning with Demian, written in 1919, there is a definite stylistic break from Hesse's early regionalism and impressionism. Klein and Wagner (1919- 20) tells the story of a man who can cope neither with the exigencies of his existence nor with the newly awakened sensuousness of his subconscious. The giving of oneself, "letting oneself fall," is also the predominant theme of Klingsor's Last Summer (1919). In his next book Siddhartha, Hesse probed deeper into the meaning of existence, but did not find the final answer. Steppenwolf, written in 1927, is Hesse's exploration of man's duality, split between human and bestial characteristics. In The Glass Bead Game (1943), Hesse sought to create a spiritual atmosphere in which he could live, breathe, and express the resistance of the spirit. Almost all of Hesse's novels are semi- autobiographical and influenced by the Romantic subjectivism of Goethe, as well as by the Bildungsroman (the novel of development or what is commonly called "coming-of-age").

Except for The Glass Bead Game, Hesse wrote very little after 1931, only publishing a few poems, essays, letters, and political commentary on the rise of the Nazi regime.

In 1946, however, he won the Nobel Prize in literature for The Glass Bead Game. His works also began to be widely translated into other European and non-European languages. Many critics consider him to be the most successful novelist in capturing the essence of Eastern thought and inner peace.

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