DEMIAN (1919, rev. 1960) by Herman Hesse

Hesse_Demian_pantherOne of the great author’s defining works, and a crucial German publication in the immediate post-war period, this novel would also, in its revised final form from 1960, prove to be pretty much his last. It is a bildungsroman, the story of roughly fifteen years in the development of a boy, charting his induction into the ‘real’ world and striving towards adulthood. The story is told in the first person by Emil Sinclair, under whose name the book first appeared with Hesse’s authorship only established subsequently.

I offer this brief post as part of the Hermann Hesse Reading Week co-hosted by Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

“… every person’s story is important, eternal, divine; and so every person, to the extent that he lives and fulfills nature’s will, is wondrous and deserving of full attention” 

I first read this book about moral, social, religious and spiritual enlightenment in my impressionable youth long ago. Along with Hesse’s later masterwork Steppenwolf (1927) it has a travelled with me through several house moves over the decades, from Italy to Singapore and then from London to Reading and back again. The story of you Emil and the influence of Max Damien on his early life is dense and powerful.

“I realise today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself.”

hesse-revisedI’m not sure I even understand it all now, even in my late 40s, but return to it periodically in search of nourishment. I had hoped to writer a much loner and detailed review but I’m afraid ‘real’ life intruded, int he shape of family and work commitments, so apologies for the brevity of this post. All I can say is that it is a great book (even if not an especially long one) and you should read it with care and attention (and I say that as someone who does not have a particularly religious bone in his body – quite the opposite in fact). Instead, I urge you to look at both Karen and Caroline’s site for the fascinating collection of materials on one of the major figures of twentieth century fiction.

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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31 Responses to DEMIAN (1919, rev. 1960) by Herman Hesse

  1. That’s Hesse for you, Sergio, isn’t it? So much to digest, to understand and to reflect on in each book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

  2. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have read Siddhartha (1922) in English translation and also seen its film adaptation (1972). But this is supposed to be a blog on crime, mystery and suspense !

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I think Demian was possibly the first Hesse book I read (though my memory is not what it was….). I too have carted it round with me since then (as well as all my other Hesses); like you, I’m not a religious person, but I think maybe it’s his moral and ethical intelligence that gets me. Thanks for joining in!

  4. Caroline says:

    I was so surprised when I read A Child’s Heart yesterday that the protagonist is called Emil Sinclair as well.
    This wasn’t my first Hesse, it was my third after Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. They do belong together. Thanks for joining us.

  5. Kelly says:

    I, too, read this when I was very young (Siddhartha as well). I’ll bet I’d have a whole different take on it now.

  6. Colin says:

    I’ve never read a thing by Hesse but his is a name I’m aware of – the truth is I’ve consumed very little, let’s say, heavyweight literature for years now.

    • I know what you mean – you really have to make time for it and you have to be in the right frame of mind. I will say though, from last year, the only books that have stuck with me at all, looking at my blog, are the mostly the non genre titles I didn’t post about at Fedora – not sure of that is sad, but it is true for me at leat.

      • Colin says:

        I suspect that’s not so unusual for anyone reading a lot of genre/pulp material. If you go through enough of the stuff, then it takes something pretty special to make enough of an impression to stick.
        Personally, I don’t worry too much about that aspect – the nature of the material isn’t really meant to be life-changing anyway so I don’t feel particularly let down.

        • I agree really, though I suppose I am aware, in my self, how much I seem to want to read only for pleasure (i.e. without requiring too much investment or effort) – and yet, when I have read more substantial books that fell outside of that desire, such as the collection of stories by Katherine mansfield, EL Doctorow’s DANIEL or John Williams STONER, I know I got much more out of them. But it depends when and how and why you read in the first place.

  7. Sergio, I tried reading “Siddhartha” in my youth but gave up midway. Since then, I have been meaning to read the book again. I wasn’t aware of this particular title until now. A couple of Hesse’s books continue to be displayed in bookstores. His work, especially pertaining to self-knowledge and self-realisation, is very relevant in our times.

  8. John says:

    In my senior high school German class we read this in German. Hate to tell you I recall none of it. I’m not sure we even made it to the end. (Well, it was nearly forty years ago.) But I can tell you all sorts of things about “Der Komissar” TV series we watched in German class and “Gefährliche Wege”, a book about the smuggling of pre-Colombian artifacts out of South America, which we also read in German. I read Steppenwolf on my own in English translation as well as Siddhartha and I remember liking Siddhartha the best of all of Hesse’s novels. The 1970s peace and love kind of mindset had a lot to do with that I think. If I have to read anything in German I’d rather dip into Rilke’s poetry which is some of the most beautiful in any language.

    • Well done you chum – it’s a language I find fascinating but truly impenetrable. I’ll have to stick to the Romance languages (well, with a name like that, who wouldn’t …)

  9. Pingback: Hermann Hesse Reading Week Wrap Up | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  10. tracybham says:

    I have not read Hesse at all and know little about his writings, so it was interesting to read this post. I have recently thought of mixing some classics in my reading (very sparsely). I guess I feel I have enough heavy thinking at work and my reading time is for entertainment.

    • What kind of classics were you thinking of Tracy?

      • tracybham says:

        You do ask hard questions, Sergio. I had just realized how hard it is to define a classic in general and what my definition for a classic would be. I must have had this in the back of my mind for a while, because a few years ago I bought a book called Practical Classics: 50 reasons to reread 50 books you haven’t touched since high school. Which has some unusual suggestions. But anyway: Probably books at least written over 50 years ago with some depth but not so much I won’t enjoy them. Some of ones I have planned to reread for years: Jane Austen, J. D. Salinger. My husband and son have suggested a few: Wind in the Willows (never read); Sinclair Lewis (may have read);Lovecraft. While sitting at the computer staring at my husband’s bookshelves I realize he has a lot there I could read. (He keeps favorite books he read; I keep my huge stacks of unread books.) I would include some crime fiction classics that I have wanted to read but not pushed myself to read. So that is the general idea.

  11. I’ve read a couple of his books – Steppenwolf was big when I was a student, and also Glass Bead Game, and Narcissus & Goldmund. I admired rather than liked. Have never heard of this one, but should consider it as a prospect for revisiting him.

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