Proto-Beatnik? – Hermann Hesse

Day 56 of Colourisation Project – July 2

Today’s subject for colourisation is Hermann Hesse, the recipient of the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born this day, July 2 in 1877, Hesse was a German novelist and poet. Best remembered for his works Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, he is hailed as one of the great German writers of the 20th century. His novels are lyrical and confessional and speak of the loneliness and alienation of the artist, and of the dual nature of humanity.

Hesse, a pacifist wrote and lived through two World Wars and was an opponent of industrialism and the rising right-wing nationalism. Uncomfortable with the growing tide of German nationalism, Hesse left Germany in 1912 to settle permanently in Switzerland. Hesse renounced his German citizenship in 1923 to become a Swiss citizen. Unimpressed, the Nazis banned his works.

Herman Hesse

Photographer Unknown – Dutch National Archives, The Hague  –  Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Hesse’s works have been translated into nearly 60 languages, and at least 125 million copies have been sold worldwide.

Some of his more popular and later works explore the individual’s quest for spiritual fulfillment, often through mysticism. Demian (1919), draws on his experience with Jungian psychoanalysis; Siddhartha (1922),  reflects his interest in Eastern spiritualism and explores themes of alienation and enlightenment from Buddhist point of view; Steppenwolf (1927) a semi-autobiographical novel examines the conflict between bourgeois acceptance and spiritual self-realization; Narcissus and Goldmund (1930) and The Glass Bead Game (1943) look at duality and the conflict between the contemplative and the active life.

Although Hesse did not write any novels after 1943 he continued to publish essays, letters, poems, reviews, and stories.  His novels gained immense popularity and brought him cult status during the 1950s and 1960s in the English-speaking world, especially amongst the Beat generation who aligned themselves with his anti-bourgeois values and saw themselves in his characters, struggling to exist as free artists in an established society.

Hesse died on August 9th in 1962, at the age of 85 in Montagnola, Switzerland.

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“If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do.” Hermann Hesse

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