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"Steppenwolf" is a poetical self-portrait of a man who felt himself to be half-human and half-wolf. This Faust-like and magical story is evidence of Hesse's searching philosophy and extraordinary sense of humanity as he tells of the humanization of a middle-aged misanthrope. Yet this novel can also be seen as a plea for rigorous self-examination and an indictment of the intellectual hypocrisy of the period. As Hesse himself remarked, 'Of all my books "Steppenwolf" is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other'.
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Hermann Hesse was born in Calw, Germany in 1877. After a short period at a seminary he moved to Switzerland to work as a bookseller. From 1904 he devoted himself to writing, establishing his reputation with a series of romantic novels. During the First World War he worked for the Red Cross and afterwards, consolidated his position as a leading contemporary thinker. Hesse won many literary awards including the Nobel Prize in 1946. He died in 1962 at the age of eighty-five.Review:
"A profoundly memorable and affecting novel, the gripping and fascinating story of disease in a man's soul, and a 'savage indictment of bourgeois society.'" --The New York Times
Hermann Hesse's work Steppenwolf was first published in German in 1927, but what it contains is still relevant today. Perhaps it is more important in our current cultural climate than ever before. It is the story of the lone individual, lost in the ironic good fortune and security of bourgeois banality and cultural conformity. The central character, Harry Haller, has all the insight, all the leisure, all the material goods he needs, yet he is not at peace with his life. His physical ailments are but symptoms of his true crisis, that of a lost soul, that of a life without meaning, that of a human without a love of humanity.
Haller, like many of us, is torn in two by his love of comfort and safety, on the one hand, and his deeper drive for a more authentically creative existence on the other. His tragic situation is born out of his inability to translate his blessings into love. Before his magical journey of discovery begins, he is nearly consumed by an almost suicidal paralysis in the face of that added dimension of existence which would bring it spiritual meaning.
Make no mistake, Steppenwolf is not a light read. Yet the escape it provides from the pabulum of today's entertainment is a welcome reminder of that something more to be found in human experience. We do not all suffer from the same issues that Harry does, over-intellectualization and self-exile from society. But many of us feel a similar need to explore life's depths in the midst of a culture that rarely sheds light upon the inner path. What Hesse offers us all is a potent combination of eastern and western insights into the human search for meaning.
Among the themes he successfully weaves together into a universal fabric are Nietzschean philosophy, depth psychology, and Buddhism. Over the course of his narrative, Hesse's main character and alter-ego experiences his over-analyzed but poorly understood self through the lens of life's great paradoxes. Thus, the storyline swirls through sensuality to find spirit, it dismantles the personality to promote a greater synthesis, and it bridges the divide between the temporal and eternal. For this reason, Steppenwolf is still the kind of literature which can enrich the individual experience by pointing us back toward that added dimension. Read it, and you are invited on journey of renewal, on a quest for meaning in an age in which such is increasingly hard to find.
It is our good fortune to have this new translation of the work from Dr. Thomas Wayne. As he shows in his work here, there must be a proper balance of faithfulness to both the style and substance of the original. Basil Creighton's 1929 translation and the 1963 revision based upon it simply omit certain elements. In these earlier, bowdlerized versions, precision has been unduly sacrificed to readability. Dr. Wayne succeeds in giving the reader as much of Hesse's actual language, in both its rhythm and its content, as a translation can allow. Now is the time to either discover or revisit this early twentieth-century classic. --Dr. Russell H. Swanson
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