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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 was intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, a
Protestant pastor and missionary; however, at an early age, he
began to rebel against the life proscribed for him and sought a
nontraditional path. Even though his father remained an inspiring
example of living faith, young Hesse sensed the discrepancy
between his father’s practices and beliefs. He also perceived the
hypocrisy, which ruled most of the institutions at the time,
especially in educational institutions, where mediocrity was
embraced by an authoritarian establishment.
Throughout his younger years, Hesse rebelled against traditional
academic education and eventually ended up leaving his formal
education behind to work as a bookseller. It was during this time
that he developed his mind by becoming a voracious reader. He
also began to write poetry. In 1903, Hesse quit his job and
devoted his time to writing books, living most of the time in
Basel, Switzerland. He wrote a large quantity of literature
between 1904-1912, including short story collections, novels, and
the production of a liberal weekly entitled Marz.
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, another novel about a young man; in this one
a musician discovers the secret of artistic existence. It was during
this period that Hesse married Maria Bernouelli and lived on Lake
Constance in Switzerland. 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).
The years from 1912-1919 were difficult ones for Hesse. There
were various illnesses and deaths 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
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. His love of music, inherited from his mother, also
influenced his writing. In 1919, as a protest against German
militarism, Hesse moved to Switzerland, where he lived in self-
imposed exile in a villa outside a small village until his death in
1962. It was here 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.
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