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Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self

Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self: Autobiography and the Confessional Imagination

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 360
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    Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self
    Book Description:

    This masterful synthesis of criticism and biography surveys all of Hermann Hesse's major works and many of his minor ones in relation to the intricate psychological design of his entire life history. Eugene Stelzig examines what it means to be an "autobiographical writer" by considering Hesse's fictions of the self as an exemplary instance of the relationship between life and art and between biography and autobiography. In a graceful and inviting style, he frees this major confessional writer from the confines of German culture and the status of "cult figure" of the 1960s, and situates him in the tradition of world literature and in a variety of literary, psychological, philosophical, and religious contexts.

    Three introductory chapters on autobiography and Hesse set the stage for a chronological study. Then follows a penetrating analysis of the balance between biographical fact and confessional fantasy in Hesse's long career, from the failed autobiography of his first literary success, Beneath the Wheel, through the protracted midlife crisis of the grotesque Steppenwolf period, to the visionary autobiography of his magisterial fictional finale, The Glass Bead Game.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5955-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-24)

    The German critic Friedrich Schlegel signaled towards the close of the eighteenth century the subjective character of much Romantic literature with the observation that ʺthe modern poet must create all things from within himself … each poet separately and each work from its very beginning, like a creation out of nothing.ʺ Yet the Romantic work is not necessarily a productionex nihilo; unlike ʺancient poetryʺ it is ʺbased entirely on a historical foundation,ʺ for it has ʺa true story at its source, even if variously reshaped.ʺ¹ Much Romantic and post-Romantic literature aims for a definition of the self in historical...

    (pp. 25-42)

    Cioran invokes a prelapsarian art-world in which the artifact could be kept separate from and uncontaminated by the life of the artificer. Was there indeed ever such a world, and did Dante and Shakespeare have the ʺreticence of powerʺ to keep their lives out of their works, or did they not, on the contrary—to paraphrase Keatsʹs famous comment on Shakespeare—write allegories of their own experience?¹ In any case, the plaint above about the ʺdeficient modernʺ is but one instance of a persistent refrain since the end of the eighteenth century—from the older Goetheʹs diagnosis of ʺsubjectivityʺ as...

    (pp. 43-79)

    So far my discussion of Hesse the autobiographical writer has not dealt with a central element that helps to define Hesseʹs self-reflexive personality as well as the subjective character of his fiction and that runs like a leitmotif through his life:Eigensinn(self-will). Hesseʹs beloved voice from within, a secularized version of the Protestant stress on individual conscience, gives a distinctive coloration to his political, religious, and aesthetic outlook. Self-will is Hesseʹs chief article of faith, his ethical touchstone for value and integrity in all areas of human life. The center of his mature self-concept, it also represents the core...

    (pp. 80-104)

    During 1894 and 1895 when Hesse, after the various academic failures and personal crises of early adolescence, toiled as a mechanicʹs helper in Perrotʹs tower-clock workshop in Calw, he devoted what spare time he had to ʺmuch serious reading.ʺ¹ While his manual work remained alien to him, he prepared himself for his true profession, writing, including the cultivation of a literary correspondence in which he could deliver the fruits of his reading and reflection. This self-described ʺlonely poetasterʺ touched in his letters—sometimes pretentiously but with a surprising self-assurance for a seventeen-year-old—on the state of modern German and European...

    (pp. 105-129)

    When Hesse married Maria Bernoulli in August 1904 and moved with her into a simple farmhouse in the out-of-the-way village of Gaienhofen overlooking the lower part of Lake Constance, he was consciously trying to live out the Romantic idyll of a picturesque retreat from the world. In this venture ʺMiaʺ had taken the lead, for she had scouted out ʺthe village of Gaienhofen … and a vacant peasant houseʺ while Hesse was back in Calw with his father and sister putting the finishing touches onBeneath the Wheel. The poetic ʺfolkʺ ideal to which Mia aspired and which Hesse shared...

    (pp. 130-158)

    TheDemianperiod (1914–1918) brought Hesse what in ʺLife Story Briefly Toldʺ he calls ʺthe second great transformation of [his] life,ʺ one that forced him to a self-confrontation that exposed the compromise inherent in his literary success andembourgeoisement:

    One thing became clear at once: the benign content in which I had lived with the world had not only been bought at too high a price; it had been just as corrupt as the outer peace of the world. I had believed that through the long, hard battles of youth I had earned my place in the world and...

    (pp. 159-187)

    When in April 1919 Hesse put Bern and his marriage behind him to settle in the southernmost, Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, the Ticino, he was belatedly acting out Veraguthʹs resolve at the end ofRosshaldeto begin a new life. It had taken the double impact of personal and cultural crisis for Hesse to make a break with his past and to set out for new regions, psychic and geographic. The movement south, as he describes it in the opening piece ofWandering(1920, a collection of lyrical prose, poetry, and drawings that reflects his eager embrace of his new...

    (pp. 188-237)

    The 1920s—that classic period of modernist art—is also the most troubled and productive decade of Hesseʹs life, during which personal and cultural crises again coincided as they had done during theDemianperiod, but with a far different result as Hesse probed the fault lines of his psyche and his age with a disconcerting frankness and a caustic humor that are a far cry fromDemianʹs muffled symbolism and rhetoric. What followed in the years after the completion (during spring 1922) ofSiddharthawas a veritable confessional explosion, including two autobiographical sketches,A Guest at the Spa(written...

    (pp. 238-310)

    The threshold of Hesseʹs final phase is 1931, the year he finishedThe journey to the East, formalized his relationship with Ninon through marriage, and moved into the spacious house (built for him according to his specifications by his friends and patrons, Hans and Elsie Bodmer) that was to be his picturesque hermitage until his death in 1962. His aspiration in the 1930s, however, toward a life of ordered serenity and clarified wisdom—which made him the resident sage of Montagnola and which also informs his last and greatest novel—is not without its underlying problems and tensions. Presided over...

    (pp. 311-314)

    After resigning from his office as Magister Ludi, Knecht confides to Plinio Designori, ʺnow that I have liberated myself from officialdom, I am much drawn to the idea of using my leisure and good spirits to write a book—or rather, a booklet, a little thing for friends and for those who share my views.ʺ ʺThe subject,ʺ he continues, ʺwould not matter,ʺ only the tone, which would be ʺa proper mean between the solemn and the intimate, earnestness and jest, a tone not of instruction, but of friendly communication and discourse on various things I think I have learned.ʺ¹ This...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 315-336)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 337-346)