BENEATH THE WHEEL by Hermann Hesse


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Born in 1877, Hermann Hesse is part of the great German generation of Hofmannsthal, Rilke, and Mann, each of whom, until recently, completely overshadowed him. But tastes change. Today, with the guru-minded youth, especially in America, Hesse appears to have come into his own. We even have a wiggy little rock group called Steppenwolf, the title of Hesse's most famous novel. Beneath the Wheel, which was first published in 1906 when Hesse was twenty-nine, is not one of the Nobel Prize winner's major efforts. As a tale of adolescent anguish and the awakening self dulled and struck down by bourgeois piety, it is similar in theme to almost all of Hesse's later fiction, particularly Demian. There is a good deal of pastoral sentimentality and somewhat lush celebration of nature in its pages; but basically the philosophy (such as it is) is closer to Nietzsche than to Rousseau. The pivotal setting is a boy's school which the upright and studious Hans attends on a scholarship. Hoping to bring glory to his unimaginative father and the other parochial townspeople, Hans becomes emotionally attached to a fellow classmate, the wild and Byronic Heilner, who unwittingly, if indifferently, brings about the boy's fall from grace. In the end, a failure as a pedant and much too repressed to emulate Heilner, the befuddled Hans kills himself. Hesse is a didactic writer preaching the transformation of the self. Here his mysticism is a shade thin and quaint, though charming in parts.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1968
ISBN: 031242230X
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux