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Tales of Student Life by Hermann Hesse


Overview: Fictional accounts of German student life in three different historical periods center on the relationships among young men and attempts to reconcile the spiritual and the secular.

Hermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. His best known works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game (also known as Magister Ludi) which explore an individual's search for spirituality outside society.

In his time, Hesse was a popular and influential author in the German-speaking world; worldwide fame only came later. Hesse's first great novel, Peter Camenzind, was received enthusiastically by young Germans desiring a different and more "natural" way of life at the time of great economic and technological progress in the country.

Throughout Germany, many schools are named after him. In 1964, the Calwer Hermann-Hesse-Preis was founded, which is awarded every two years, alternately to a German-language literary journal or to the translator of Hesse's work to a foreign language. There is also a Hermann Hesse prize associated with the city of Karlsruhe, Germany.


Tales of Student Life by Hermann Hesse Book Chapter One


viii ) TALES  OF STUDENT LIFE the prestigious cloister  schools of  Wiirttemberg, from which they normally proceeded to  the University  of Tiibingen for  training in  an academic or  clerical profes­sion.  As  a  result of his  performance in  the  competition, Hesse was accepted at  Maulbronn, a  former  Cistercian monastery,  which he entered in September I8g1. At first things seemed to go smoothly, to judge from the enthusi­astic  letters that the new seminarian wrote home to his parents.  Only six  months later,  however, he  ran  away from school and had  to be brought back by the local con­stabulary, and a  few weeks after that, Hesse's parents withdrew him from Maulbronn. Still cherishing hopes for his  education,  the dispirited father and mother sent their recalcitrant son from one school to  another for  the next year and a  half.  Finally, in October  of I8g3, pleading a headache that had persisted for  three weeks, Hesse per­suaded his family to take him out of school for good. That marked the end of his formal education. Hesse's interest in  educational questions resulted  di­rectly from  his own misadventures.  "School ruined me in many  respects,''  he  continued in  the letter to  his  step­brother, "and I  know of few men of character who did not have  a  similar experience. All  that I  learned there was Latin  and lying, because you  couldn't get  through Calw and the Gymnasium without lying." Up to a point, Hesse's concern reflected the spirit of  the times in  Germany shortly before  World War I. For roughly a  decade,  so many plays and novels were written about  school  and its discontents that they produced a  genre known simply as Schulliteratur: Emil Strauss's Friend Death (I go2), Heinrich Mann's The  Blue  Angel ( 1  gos), and Robert Musil's The  Confusions  of  Young Torless ( 1906) are among  the  most familiar examples. But Hesse's  concern was  more  than a  concession to  a  fashionable literary trend. For sixty  years his writings-including letters, essays, and autobiographical  reflections-return obses-
Introduction (  ix sively to  his years in  the schoolroom. From the beginning of his  career to  the end,  many of  his  major  works  can properly be considered "pedagogical" in one sense or an­other: either they constitute an indictment of the existing school system, like the novel Beneath the Wheel ( rgo6); or, like the "pedagogical province·· that provides the back­ground for T1ze Glass Bead Game ( 1943 ), they represent an idealized educational system in which the individual is encouraged to develop his unique capacities to the fullest extent. It is hardly surprising.  therefore, to find in Hesse's  fic­tion a number  of stories that deal with schoolboys.  stu­dents,  and their problems.  What distinguishes the  three tales  collected here-"Friends," "Berthold,''  and the so­called "Fourth Life" -is the  liveliness with which they re­create student life  at Yarious moments in German history (the fin de  sii:cle, the Thirty Years· War,  and the early eighteenth century)  and the close connection in  which they stand to three of Hesse's major novels. Like all of Hesse's fiction, these  three stories are heavily autobiographical in  substance. In  his  preface to Gerbcrsau ( 1949), a  collection  of works dealing with  his Swabian homcto\\11, Hesse remarked :  "\Vhcnevcr as  a writer I speak  of the forest or the river, of the meadow valley, of the shade of  the chestnuts or the fragrance of the firs ,   it   is always the forest around Calw, the river Nagold, the  fir  woods  and  the chestnut trees of Calw that arc meant; and al so the marketplace ,   the bridge  and chapel, Bischofstrasse and Ledergassc,  the marsh and the meadow path to I li rsau can be  recognized everywhere in my books-even in  those  that arc not explicitly Swabian.'' It is clear that the heroes of al l three tales grew up  in Hesse's hometown.   In "Friends,"  Hans Calwer's name hints   at his origin, ami even Erwin Miihletal's  name ( Miihletal = mill valley)   suggests the narrow valley  of the Nagold with its many mills. The attentive reader of
X ) TALES OF STUDENT LIFE "Berthold" and "The Fourth  Life" will soon note, more­over,  that Berthold's unspecified hometown and Knecht's Beutelsperg, or  Beitelsperg an  der Koller, are  identical: walled towns standing in  a  narrow valley above a  rapid mountain stream,  with a  splendid cobblestone square flanked by timbered houses and adorned with a fountain, and a  Gothic church topped with  a provisional wooden tower. The monastery where Berthold becomes a  skilled Latinist is modeled after Maulbronn, and Berthold's life in Cologne  is  based on Hesse's experiences in  the pensions where he lived while attending school following his deba­cle  at Maulbronn. Knecht's Denkendorf was in reality an­other of the famed cloister schools;  and the pattern of life there is precisely the same as that at Maulbronn. Hesse never attended a university. In  1895  he wrote to a  friend still  at  Maulbronn that he had no intention of going back to school.  "In fact, there has never been a  time when the university was more dispensable than it  is  at present-at least  for people like me, who as a  matter of principle are not  entering  any kind of  government ser­vice." Yet he became intimately familiar  with the univer­sity in Ttibingen,  which is  attended both by the students in  "Friends" and  by Knecht in  "The Fourth Life." The University of  Ttibingen, especially in  conjunction with the famous Stift  (the residence for theological students which is mentioned in both stories), was long one of  the most influential institutions in German intellectual life. During  one glorious period at  the  end of  the eighteenth century, Hegel, Schelling, and Holderlin were fellow stu­dents  in the Stift.  The poet Morike, the theologian D. F. Strauss, and the aesthetician F. T. Vischer are merely a few of the distinguished Swabians who followed precisely the  same educational track through the  cloister  schools to the Stift and the university in Ttibingen.  So Hesse was familiar with Ttibingen as  an important institution both
Introduction (  xi from the history of his  native \Vtirttemberg and from the biographies of some of his favorite writers. Beyond that, he spent four years in Ttibingen-from the  autumn of 1895 through  the summer  of 18gg-as an apprentice and then as  a  stock clerk in  Heckenhauer's bookstore.  To be  sure, he  did  not lead the  idle student's life described in "Friends":  after working from 7: 30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. six  days  a  week, he spent most of  his eve­nings writing his  first literary works (notably the poems of Romantic Songs and  the poemes-en-prose of An Hour beyond  Midnight) and reading his way systematically through  German literature of the Romantic period.  How­ever,  through his association with former seminary friends now in Ttibingen,  Hesse was i�wited from time to time to participate in affairs at the Stift and  the univer­sity, where he  had frequent opportunity to  observe the student fraternity  life that he depicts with such irony in "Friends." As he subsequently wrote to  a  correspondent who mistakenly  assumed that he had studied at the uni­versity: "Neither have I eYer been a  student, nor have I ever been sympathetic to  student life. For the most part students-both  the serious and the  boisterous ones-are an  abomination. I found the whole university business foolish and consider it a shame that such a large segment of the younger generation regards studying as  the only respectable and proper career choice. In  Ti.ibingen, where I lived for  four full years and spent a  lot  of time with students, I got my fill  of  the whole business."  Yet these four years enabled I I esse to  include in "Friends" a vivid and detailed portrayal of  student life  in  Germany around the turn of the century. The drama of  friendship that is  acted out  against  the background of  university life in Ti.ibingen  is  virtually archetypal for Hesse's fiction: a  relationship, with  pro­nounced homoerotic overtones, between two young men.
xii ) TALES  OF STUDENT LIFE one a leader with a  strong craving  for consciousness and independence, the  other a  talented but weaker follower, who is jolted out of his childlike innocence by his friend, but  who  longs to return to  the security and approval  of society.  In  a  number of  works Hesse has explored this relationship in its  various configurations; but both arche­typal  figures represent aspects of  his own character. "Friends" could be  designated in one sense as  a response to  Hesse's immediately  preceding novel. Beneath the Wlzeel ends when Hans Giebenrath, unable to endure the pressures of the academic system, drops out of school and commit� suicide, while his stronger friend, Hermann Heilner (the  first of  many characters with Hesse's own initials)  survives. In "Friends" the  situation is balanced: Erwin lVIi.ihletal is  awakened from innocence by  Hans Calwer. Unable to follow his friend into an alienated inde­pendence, he  at  first sinks into  profligacy, but then re­covers and, with the  approval of his fraternity brothers, becomes engaged and settles down to his  medical studies, while Hans Calwer, forsaking his  fruitless attempt to emulate  the peasant philosopher Heinrich Wirth,  moves on to  another university to  pursue his quest for knowledge. This ambivalent resolution reflects Hesse's personal dilemma at the  time he wrote the  story. In  1907, at age thirty,  Hesse underwent a  profound emotional crisis fol­lowing several months of illness. The success of his novel Peter Camenzind ( 1904)  had enabled him to get married and to settle down in Gaienhofen,  a  remote village on the German shore of  Lake Constance with-as Hesse wrote to  Stefan Zweig-"no trains, no  shops,  no industry,  and not even a pastor of its own." Since there were no crafts­men in the village, he had to manage all the repairs on his house; since there  was no butcher, he had  to row across the lake to  the nearest Swiss town to  purchase every sausage. For  several years Hesse enjoyed the  image  of
Introduction (  xiii himself as  a  happy homeowner. But by  1907  he was al­ready beginning   to feel restricted and to believe that the very independence he sought was causing him to subside into precisely the kind of philistinism he had tried so des­perately to  avoid.  This dilemma is  reflected in  the two leading figures of  "Friends." Erwin l\Itihletal represents the concessions to wife, family, and career that Hesse had made  when he  moved to  Gaienhof en;  but Hans Calwer betrays Hesse's  unsatisfied longing for freedom and, above all, for consciousness. Hesse returned to  this archetypal configuration when he wrote Demian (published in  19 19), and the parallels between the early story and the  novel are  unmistakable. Uke Erwin l\Itihletal, Emil Sinclair  is  led out  of  child­hood into  the realm of adult consciousness and responsi­bility by  his bolder friend;  and after their break he first longs  to find his way back into the lost paradise of child­hood  innocence before he succumbs to the lure of profli­gacy.  Hans Calwer. in  turn. anticipates Demian's  rather elitist  contempt for  the  "herd people" as well as his  reli­gious quest for truth. And Calwer's friendship with Hein­rich Wirth anticipates the crowd of  religious seekers­vegetarians,  Buddhists, utopians. Tolstoyans-who sur­round Demian. Bu t  the  conclusion  of  the novel is wholly different. At  the end, it is :\lax Demian who has perished, while Emil Sinclair remains  behind  to continue the  work of the young man  who had been his friend and leader. In other words, the  archetypal  relationship is identical with the one in "Friends" and Bcncatl1 tl1c \VI1ccl, but the bal­ance is shifted experimentally in each work. Hesse once remarked that he  considered the  religious impulse the "decisive characteristic" of his life  and works. So it  is hardly surprising that the  common  interest that brings llans Calwer  and Heinrich Wirth  together should be  their  study of religion and that the central figures of "Berthold" and "The Fourth Life" are students of theology.
xiv ) TALES OF STUDENT LIFE To  be  sure,  the  nature  of this interest in the stories mir­rors Hesse's mood at  the  time of composition. When he wrote "Friends" and "Berthold" (around 1907-8) the thirty-year-old writer was still in the  throes of  his rebel­lion against what he considered the narrow sterility of the pietism of  his  youth.  As  a  result,  we  find the  religious impulse manifesting itself as a fascination with other and specifically non-Protestant forms of religion. In "Friends" Hesse alludes to  the spectrum of  religious  sects that sprang up  in  Europe toward  the end of  the nineteenth century, including notably  an interest in Buddhism and other Oriental religions. Hesse had  grown up in a  home inspired with the spirit of  India,  for both his parents as well as his maternal grandfather had  been missionaries there. "From the time I  was a  child," he  later wrote, "I breathed in and absorbed the spiritual side of India just as deeply as Christianity." And this impulse led him, in 1911, to make the trip to India which resulted, years later, in the novel Siddhartha (I 922). When Hans Calwer ex­plores Buddhism and attends lectures on Oriental studies, he  is acting out Hesse's own preoccupations. The background of "Berthold," in  contrast, is Catholic. In 1903, in one of the frequent letters that he wrote home in a  calculated  effort to  shock his devout family, Hesse observed that no theology could be  too radically modern for  independent thinkers,  but  he knew of no more "bril­liant model" of  a  people's religion than Catholicism. Hesse's genuine admiration for the  ritual, symbolic,  and aesthetic aspects of  Catholicism lasted  to  the  end of  his life, manifesting itself in  such works as  his  early biog­raphy of St. Francis of Assisi ( I 904) and the  chapter in Tlze Glass Bead Game that portrays the life of the Desert Fathers.  In  "Berthold," then, Hesse retraced his symbolic autobiography as  it might have been had he grown up a Catholic during the  time of the Thirty Years' War. Again we note many of  the same fictional components that oc-
Introduction ( XV cur  in  "Friends," but here they appear in  a  different pat­tern.  Here,  too,  the  homoerotic friendship  between stu­dent friends leads to the indoctrination into sex by a  girl from the lower classes,  the turmoil and confusions  of youthful growth, and the loss of childhood  innocence re­garded as  the  fall from paradise into consciousness and guilt (an  image  that occurs as a  leitmotiv  in Hesse's fic­tion). For reasons that remain unclear, Hesse never com­pleted this story of the renegade seminarian who kills his best friend and then vanishes into the excitement of the Thirty Years' War. Quite possibly Hesse decided that the pronounced sexuality of the theme was too explicit for the rather prudish tastes of Kaiser \Vilhelm's Germany. How­ever, the fragment  (which wa8 not published until 1945) contains most of the narrative elements that went into the novel Narcissus  and  Goldmund ( 1930 ),  written some twenty years later. In  that novel  the time has been shifted back from the seventeenth  century into an  unspecified but still  mono­lithically Catholic era  in  the  late  Middle Ages.  (It is  not unlikely that Hesse wanted  to focus on tensions within a unified Catholic  world and not on  the  wholly different conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism which would have  been inevitable  during the  Thirty Years' War.) Like Berthold,  Goldmund grows up  without  a mother and is  sent by his father into the  monastery.  Both Berthold and  Goldmund arc strong,  handsome young men, inexperienced in the ways of the world but inordi­nately responsive  to  sensual pleasures;  for  both,  the life of  the senses  begins when they arc seduced  by older and experienced girls.  Berthold's  closest friend at  school  is Johannes, the  professional-albeit  cynically Machiavel­lian-churchman who has  the name that Narcissus adopts after  his  investiture as  a  priest. The most con­spicuous physical characteristic of Johannes-Narcissus is a  thin ascetic face with soulful eyes and long black eye-
xvi ) TALES OF STUDENT LIFE lashes.  It  is  Johannes-like Narcissus later-who first awakens his younger friend to the realization that monas­tic life is not his true calling, while he himself is happily reconciled to  the life of a  prince of  the  church. In  both works a  major crisis is  precipitated by  a  girl named Agnes.  There  are of course conspicuous differences:  no­tably, the  early  fragment  breaks off when Berthold kills Johannes, while in the novel Narcissus becomes the abbot of the monastery and finally rescues Goldmund from exe­cution.  "Berthold" ends when the protagonist flees Cologne to enter the Thirty Years' War, just as Goldmund leaves the monastery and becomes involved in the worldly events of his age. Yet "Berthold," apart from its  Catholic and seventeenth-century variation of  the student arche­type in Hesse's fiction, is clearly the model that Hesse had in mind for  two decades until he finally reshaped  it into one of his most popular novels. The so-called "Fourth Life" was undert

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