HERMANN HESSE: Life and Art by Joseph Mileck


Email this review


From his early fame around 1910 onwards, Hesse's public following has been fickle. Several times his celebrity evaporated, his books were unwanted, his royalties nil. These vicissitudes suggest a knack for expressing ephemeral, widely felt moods, including that which brought him new popularity among the rebellious young of the 1960s. Mileck dutifully records these many phases of Hesse's life, work, and reputation, while limning Hesse's complex temperament, noting the thinkers who influenced him, explicating his most significant writings, and attempting to fix his permanent literary importance. This is no small task, for Hesse was a prolific author for some 60 years, and his mind drew everything it contemplated into his private wars between flesh and spirit, objectivity and subjectivity, the longings for society and isolation. No one is better qualified to disentangle this abundance than Mileck, compiler of the huge two-volume Hesse bibliography. For completeness, then, no biography in English compares. But Mileck's scholarship fails to explain Hesse the man and artist and thereby fails to convince us of Hesse's transcendent merits. Although Mileck says that virtually all of Hesse's writings were ""confessional in form and therapeutic in function,"" he often lapses into silence or inane generalizations when accounting for Hesse's actions and ideas. Did Hesse give his children away? Yes, because ""domesticity had obviously not agreed with him."" Did he become a recluse? Yes, because ""he was now determined to be himself."" Powerfully influenced by psychoanalysis, did he value Freud's ideas more highly than Jung's? Yes, but why ""is ultimately of no great moment."" Such judgments leave blanks in the portrait, prompting impatience with the redundancies elsewhere and rousing doubts about Mileck's critical praise of his subject.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1978
ISBN: 0520041526
Publisher: Univ. of California Press