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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Rosshalde (1914) by Herman Hesse

Painting of Herman Hesse

Book Review
Rosshalde (1914)
by Herman Hesse
Bantam Paperback Edition

  Reviewing Rosshalde as a book published in 1914, while factually accurate, is deceptive, because Hesse was essentially unknown in English until the mid 1960s, when his books were republished en masse and became a favorite of the 1960s counter culture and subsequent generations of high school/college aged readers.   The ark is easy to see if you look at Herman Hesses' English language Ngram- basically growing by six fold between 1960 and 1974, with a peak popularity in 1980, a mild decline through the 1990s and an uptick after 1993.

   Herman Hesse has four books on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  In high school I read three of the four: Siddhartha (1922) , Stephenwolf (1927) and The Glass Bead Game (1943).  Hesse was hardly an unknown figure in world literature- he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.  But his mix of spiritualism- clearly influenced by German Romanticism, Freudianism and a veneer of Orientalism struck a resonant chord with the 1960s counter culture and its children.

  Hesse published many Novels that I've read that DIDN'T make it to the 1001 Books List- Narcissus and Goldmund, Journey to the East & Demian are three that I remember reading in the Bantam paperback version that mirrors this edition of Rosshalde. Rosshalde is the name of the estate/home of famous painter Johann Verguth and his loveless marriage.  He decides to leave to join a friend in India, and his youngest son (and light of his life) gets Meningitis and dies.  You can see where the self-obsessed culture of the West during the 1960s would find this level of self absorption, but its only tolerable if you take it as an anachronistically romantic Novel (which it in fact is.)

  Despite the historical quirk of Hesse being "discovered" by an English Audience almost twenty years after he published his last novel,  Hesse was not the only Novelist incorporating the new "science" of psychology/psychiatry. Hesse actually did undergo psychoanalysis with Jung.  His direct experience contrasts with that of D.H. Lawrence who actually denied early familiarity with Freud and his work on the mind.  The trend of incorporating new disciplines like psychology and other new social sciences: sociology, began in the late 19th century.  In 19th century literature this focus is often on using these new methods to describe "the lower classes" only in the 20th century did writers like Hesse and Lawrence (and Stein, and Joyce) start to apply that focus to the self.

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