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Hermann Karl Hesse was a German-born poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge, and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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Key Facts & Information
Birth and Family
- Marie Gundert and Johannes Hesse were proud to announce the birth of their son Hermann Hesse on 2 July, 1877, in the forest town of Calw in Wurttemberg, Germany.
- The couple served in India at a Basel Mission, established under a Protestant Christian Missionary Society. Hesse’s mother, was born in India at such a mission and was herself a brilliant poetess and avid reader of literature and master of five languages.
- She was earlier married to Charles Isenberg and bore two sons – Theodor and Karl, both born in India. However, after a brief period, Charles passed away due to serious ailment and Marie then married Johannes Hesse.
- Hermann was Johannes and Marie’s second child. They were earlier blessed with a daughter, Adele, in 1875. Hesse had four other siblings – Paul, Gertrud, Marulla, and Johannes. Thus, he belonged to a big family of brothers and sisters and Marie brought them up with intermittent help from her husband.
- Johannes belonged to the German minority in the Baltic region which was under the Russian Empire. As a result, Hermann had the privilege to be granted German and Russian citizenship.
- Johannes Hesse worked for a reputed publishing house called Calwer Verlag Verein which specialized in theological scripts and schoolbooks, and was managed by his father-in-law, Dr. Hermann Gundert.
Childhood and Education
- Maria was ecstatic that her bundle of joy was a healthy, chubby fellow. However, right from the beginning, Hermann showed a complex personality and his family found it too difficult to manage his boisterous and stubborn nature. However, he possessed a powerful mind.
- When Hermann was four years old, the family temporarily moved to Basel in Switzerland where they lived for six years. It was a large spacious house with a beautiful garden and the children had much freedom to enjoy themselves.
- Initially, Hermann too enjoyed the life in Basel. Chasing butterflies gave him much enjoyment and so did watching trains running up and down close by their home. But soon his pretty world changed into darkness as his violent temper tantrums became a habit.
- His father would often punish him, be it for a simple lie or for stealing an apple or for his tantrums. Each time he was reprimanded by his father, Hermann would run to his mother begging for forgiveness or to his elder sister Adele for comfort.
- After a few months, he was enrolled at the Mission Nursery school where his attitude showed improvement, though temporary. He became close to the principal, Parson Pfisterer who understood Hermann’s problematic attitude and became his mentor.
- Hermann’s behavioral attitude was bad and his rebellious nature forced his parents to change schools one after the other. After receiving a series of complaints about their son’s precocious nature from the teaching faculties, his parents realized that their son was not an ordinary child. At one point, they even thought of sending Hermann away to a foster home as it was getting too difficult for them to raise him.
- However, they soon discovered that Hermann was gifted with classic observation power, an intelligent mind capable of memorizing a number of poems when compared to other children of his age, and he was proficient in making amazing paintings and improvising on the harmonium.
- The family eventually moved back to Calw where Hermann attended the Latin School in Goppingen. His attitude became manageable and he always impressed his parents by scoring at the top of his class.
- After completing his primary education, his parents enrolled him in the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Maulbronn Abbey which was considered as Germany’s most magnificent abbey.
- Hermann was very happy to be a part of the most prestigious boarding school of Germany as it was this school which gave birth to the most enriching thoughts that created magic in the literary world.
- The atmosphere appealed to him and he was content with the open relationship with other pupils and established a good rapport with his teachers. Hermann performed quite well academically in the first few months and excelled in writing essays and translating Greek poetry into German.
- However, this happy phase did not last very long as it also marked the beginning of personal crisis which made Hermann’s life miserable. His rebellious attitude disrupted his path to development as a storm ravaged his mind and he was widely misunderstood.
Period of Crisis
- Hermann’s first encounter with mental illness was at the age of twelve when his father Johannes Hesse suffered a severe depression and collapsed, the reason being the pressure and tension of work, which was too much for him to handle.
- For two months, he was treated in a hospital, and his mother, along with Adele surveyed for a new home. Hermann was very disturbed with his father’s illness and his incapability to do something helpful made matters worse.
- Finally, Hermann was enrolled at an institution at Bad Boll under the auspices of theologian and Minister Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt who was a colleague of Hermann’s grandfather, and so it was expected that the child would receive special treatment.
- Hermann then met Eugenie Kolb when he was 17 and she was 22. When he declared his love for her, she gently refused, driving him to despair and he even attempted suicide.
- Finally, after much debate and suggestions from Blumhardt, Hermann was admitted at Stetten, an institution for mentally retarded and epileptic children. After a few months, Hermann showed a positive attitude and was released on account of good behaviour.
- Hermann resumed his studies at a secondary school in Cannstatt, near Stuttgart. Despite the turbulent phase, he passed the examination which concluded his schooling and his family finally allowed him to return home to Calw.
- For some time, Hermann assisted his father in the publishing house. His grandfather, encouraged Hermann to read widely and gave access to his vast library which was filled with books pertaining to world literature. It was under his grandfather’s guidance that Hermann developed wings to explore the world of literature.
A Writer Is Born
- Hermann now began working as a mechanical apprentice at a clock tower factory in Calw. The monotonous work of soldering and filing led Hermann to seek spiritual answers.
- He worked hard there for a few months as he resolved to be financially independent, but ultimately, joined as an apprentice in a bookshop in Tubingen. This was the turning point in Hermann’s life as his literary career was about to begin.
- The bookshop comprised books related to Theology, Philosophy, and Law which were Hermann’s favourite subjects. Hermann’s job responsibilities included organizing, packing, and archiving the books, which he enjoyed thoroughly. Such was his passion for books that even after dedicating twelve hours to work daily, he pursued his love for reading.
- Even on Sundays, instead of loitering around with his friends, he chose to read books and would devote much time in research of theological writings, Goethe, Lessing, Schiller, and numerous texts on Greek mythology.
- By the time he reached 18 years of age, Hermann became financially independent. He decided to expand his horizons of reading and absorbing the work and writings of German Romantics particularly Clemens Brentano, Joseph Freiherr Von Eichendorff, Friedrich Holderlin, and Novalis.
- Inspired by these authors, Hermann penned his first poem, Madonna which was published in Viennese periodicals. Around the same year in 1897, he released his first collection of poetries called Romantic Songs.
- Though it did not prove to be too successful, one of his poems from the collection called Grand Valse drew fan mail from a lady- Helene Voigt. This encouraged Hermann further and in the subsequent year he released another collection of poems called One Hour After Midnight.
- It was Helene Voigt’s husband, Mr. Eugen Diederichs, a young publisher, who in his zeal to please his wife, agreed to publish Hermann’s poems. But both the collections were unsuccessful as it failed to impress the readers.
- Only 54 copies out of 600 printed versions of ‘Romantic Songs’ were sold and ‘One Hour after Midnight’ sales were a huge disaster. Hermann’s mother too did not approve of ‘Romantic Songs’ as she found them to be quite bold and sinful. Hermann did not expect such resentment from his mother and was rather shocked.
- Around 1899, Hermann began working for an antique book store in Basel. He decided to stay away from his parents and through family contacts began staying at various spiritually inclined families.
- The whole year was spent in solitude, away from the social glare leading him to live life in a shell. Thus began a journey of self- realization and spirituality.
- While living in Basel, Hesse felt stimulated as he began to investigate his spirituality since the city offered the chance to retreat into a quiet life of artistic investigation.
- Hesse maintained a close relationship with many of the city’s intellectuals. Publisher Samuel Fischer realized that Hermann possessed tremendous potential and encouraged him to write novels, helping Hermann to publish his first novel, Peter Camenzind in 1904.
- The novel gained widespread popularity and Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder father of Psychoanalysis, appreciated ‘Peter Camenzind’ as one of his favorite novels.
- In the same year, he was awarded the Bauernfeld prize and the Swabian Schiller Society unanimously elected him as an associate member and the first Hesse society was created. It was indeed a matter of pride for Hermann and it further motivated him.
- Hermann continued with his passion of writing and released his second novel, Beneath the Wheel in the year 1906. During the same period, he composed a number of short stories and poems and one of his story Wolf was considered as a shadow of Steppenwolf.
- Around the year 1910, he wrote his third novel, Gertrude and although it was a success, Hermann had to struggle to release it due to complications in production. Hermann described the publication of ‘Gertrude’ as a ‘miscarriage’.
Journey with Siddhartha
- Hermann decided to travel to India for a spiritual journey, immersing in an unusual experience as he began to live a life of recluse, and commit himself totally in the philosophy of Buddhism and Hinduism.
- During his trip, he continued writing Siddhartha to ‘cure his sickness with life’. Hermann did not face any hindrance while writing its first part but found it very grueling to write the second part and his failure to proceed further led him to depression.
- Hermann received a major breakthrough when his cousin from Japan, Wilhelm Gundert visited him in the year 1922. Gundert was a professor and missionary from Tokyo and possessed abundant knowledge on the life of Gautam Buddha (Siddhartha). With his assistance, Hermann resumed his writing on Siddhartha.
- Siddhartha had at last become a sort of achievement for Hermann but the project drained the energy out of him. He was plagued by acute pain in his eyes and legs that drove him to agony and despair. No amount of physiotherapy was helping him and a sense of poverty prevailed. He realized that he had to continue writing in order to attain financial stability.
- The period between 1924 and 1927 was a period of self-introspection for Hermann. On advice of medical experts, he decided to spend time at Baden, a health resort in Switzerland and lived there for a while. This was the time he devoted totally on himself, relaxing and analyzing his strengths and weakness.
- Meanwhile, Hermann’s love for writing inspired him to write a number of poems, short stories and novels. His two premier novels Kurgast and The Nuremberg were released one after the other and both turned out to be amazing works.
- The following months, personal crises continued to overshadow Hesse’s successes. He was looking for escape from all those troubles that hindered his activity as a writer and envisioned the magic mirror of humour and art as he was ready to create Steppenwolf.
- ‘Steppenwolf’ was the tenth novel by Hermann and the story reflected the intense period of crisis in Hermann’s world since 1920. The protagonist portrayed in the story displayed split personality between humanity and his wolf-like aggressive nature.
- Hermann’s condition remained the same with severe pain in his legs and frequent bouts of depression. He shuffled between Zurich and Montagnola as Steppenwolf had not been published yet.
- In one of his letters, he revealed that he had made up his mind to end his life on his fiftieth birthday. Samuel Fischer came to his rescue and proposed that they celebrate Hermann’s fiftieth birthday with a biography written by Hesse’s good friend Hugo Boll.
- Hermann continued with his literary work although his health failed miserably. He released some fine collections of short stories and fairy tales and also began to collect poems for further volumes.
- After being honored with a prestigious award, the German publishers too began printing his works. Gradually, prosperity could not elude Hermann as money started to flow and his sales increased.
- Honors also continued to flow as he was honored with The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946 and the Peace Prize by the German Book Trade in 1955.
- Hermann’s health was deteriorating day by day and he complained about his tearing and painful eyes which restricted him from enjoying gardening, his favorite leisure time activity.
- Hermann’s last years until 1962 were more of a quiet life. He was later diagnosed with leukemia in its final stage but he continued to enjoy country life with long walks in the woods and mountains with support, as he had become very frail.
- On August 9, 1962, Hermann passed away due to a brain hemorrhage and was laid to rest on August 11 in the cemetery of Sant’abbondio, the same place where Hugo Ball was buried.
Influence and Legacy
- Hermann Hesse continues to live in the novels penned by him. Though he was a very popular and famous writer of his time, yet, he got due recognition much later in his life.
- In Germany itself, numerous schools are named after Hesse. The Calwer Hermann Hesse Preis award was also founded which honours literary work in Germany.
Hermann Hesse Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Hermann Hesse across 29 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Hermann Hesse worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Hermann Karl Hesse who was a German-born poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge, and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Authors Online
- Pop Quiz
- Judge by the Cover
- Library Hunt
- Color Zen
- Big Buddhas
- Pursuit for Happiness
- Leaving Materialism
- The 8-Fold Path
- Super Swiss
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