52 in 52 Week 16: Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
I only read three classical books in high school:
1) The Holy Bible - My upbringing included no Bible. So, I jumped at the opportunity to take "The Literary Survey of the Bible" from Mr. Watson in my public high school in 10th grade. GREAT decision, and the best classic I have ever read. It is my life goal now to help people understand it: www.3yearbiblebookclub.blogspot.com.
2) The Great Gatsby - Read it in 9th grade and didn't understand it. Saw the movie when it came out in the movie theatres in the 70's and didn't understand that either. I read it in my 40's and appreciated its brilliance.
3) Siddhartha - Read this in the same class in 9th grade, and it was my first exposure to Hinduism, but I thought it was odd that it was written by a German, Herman Hesse. Maybe I should try it again? (Addition: I went for a walk with my friend, Cathi, and she said one of her friends said Siddhartha was her favorite book. So, I think I will try it again.)
So Steppenwolf is my second Herman Hesse novel. It is an autobiographical/psychological novel, and I wonder if Herman Hesse was on drugs when he wrote it. He only admitted to alcohol and hashish in his lifetime, but many have speculated because this book talks about drug use (opium) and explicit sex (thankfully never describing it), and the end seems so hallucinogenic!
I think Hesse had a hard life. He was raised in a Pietist home, and he was an interesting child:
From early on, Hermann Hesse appeared headstrong and hard for his family to handle. In a letter to her husband Johannes Hesse, Hermann's mother Marie wrote: "The little fellow has a life in him, an unbelievable strength, a powerful will, and, for his four years of age, a truly astonishing mind. How can he express all that? It truly gnaws at my life, this internal fighting against his tyrannical temperament, his passionate turbulence [...] God must shape this proud spirit, then it will become something noble and magnificent -- but I shudder to think what this young and passionate person might become should his upbringing be false or weak."
Hesse showed signs of serious depression as early as his first year at school. (wikipedia.org)
You can see Hesse's peitist roots in the words of Hermine about the Kingdom of God. That was the best part of the book. We are made for another world in the Kingdom of God, and I heartily agree with this. (The lifestyle of Hermine makes you question how much she really understood living in the Kingdom of God in the here and now.)
This book is about a man's inner turmoil between the "wolf" and the "man." It had moments of brilliance; but overall, I would not recommend it for the sensitive soul.
It is weird, and I didn't like the mood it put me in. Toward the end of the book, I wanted to throw up as I listened to one of the situations.
What gives with these 20th Century novelists? Were they just so jaded after World War I that they had to pour it all out on the page?
Some quotes supplied by kuniyoshi | Aug 8, 2011 | on www.librarything.com:
“When he worships his favorites among the immortals, Mozart, perchance, he always looks at him in the long run through bourgeois eyes. His tendency is to explain Mozart’s perfected being, just as a schoolmaster would, as a supreme and special gift rather than as the outcome of his immense powers of surrender and suffering, of his indifference to the ideals of the bourgeois, and of his patience under that last extremity of loneliness…”
“The man of power is ruined by power, the man of money by money, the submissive man by subservience, the pleasure seeker by pleasure.”
On man’s insignificance:
“…the Steppenwolf’s look pierced our whole epoch, its whole overwrought activity, the whole surge and strife, the whole vanity, the whole superficial play of a shallow, opinionated intellectuality. And, alas! The look went still deeper, went far below the faults, defects and hopelessness of our time, our intellect, our culture alone. It went right to the heart of all humanity, it bespoke eloquently in a single second the whole despair of a thinker, of one who knew the full worth and meaning of man’s life. It said: ‘See what monkeys we are! Look, such is man!’ and all at once all renown, all intelligence, all the attainments of the spirit, all progress towards the sublime, the great and enduring in man fell away and became a monkey’s trick!”
On living life:
“How I used to love the dark, sad evenings of late autumn and winter, how eagerly I imbibed their moods of loneliness and melancholy when wrapped in my cloak I strode for half the night through rain and storm, through the leafless winter landscape, lonely enough then too, but full of deep joy, and full of poetry which later I wrote down by candlelight sitting on the edge of my bed! All that was past now. The cup was emptied and would never be filled again. Was that a matter of regret? No, I did not regret the past. My regret was for the present day, for all the countless hours and days that I lost in mere passivity and that brought me nothing, not even the shocks of awakening.”
“It is certain in any case that life is quite disarmed by the gift to live so entirely in the present, to treasure with such eager care every flower by the wayside and the light that plays on every passing moment.”
“Man is not capable of thought in any high degree, and even the most spiritual and highly cultivated of men habitually sees the world and himself through the lenses of delusive formulas and artless simplifications – and most of all himself. For it appears to be an inborn and imperative need of all men to regard the self as a unit. However often and however grievously this illusion is shattered, it always mends again.”
On selling out:
“Most intellectuals and most artists belong to the same type. Only the strongest of them force their way through the atmosphere of the bourgeois earth and attain to the cosmic. The others all resign themselves or make compromises. Despising the bourgeois, and yet belonging to it, they add to its strength and glory; for in the last resort they have to share their beliefs in order to live.”
“No, I am sure he has not taken his life. He is still alive, …. , listens to the world beneath his window and the hum of human life from which he knows that he is excluded. But he has not killed himself, for a glimmer of belief still tells him that he is to drink this frightening suffering in his heart to the dregs, and that it is of this suffering he must die.”
This book made me want to read Faust by Goethe though because he is mentioned many times in the book.