beneath the wheel Beneath The Wheel by Hermann Hesse. New York. 1968. Farrar Straus Giroux. 187 pages. Jacket design by Charles Gottlieb.


The first Hermann Hesse novel I ever read, when I was 16 years old - a perfect time to fall under the spell of the romantic, rebellious, and ultimately tragic character of Hans Giebenrath.




   BENEATH THE WHEEL, Herman Hesse's second novel, was originally published in 1906. It belongs to the genre of 'school novels' that includes Heinrich Mann's THE BLUE ANGEL, Emil Strauss' FRIEND DEATH, and Robert Musil's YOUNG TORLESS, all of which were published around the same time. The story it tells, based in part on Hesse's own experience, constitutes an attack on educational systems that foster intellect, purposefulness and ambition to the detriment of emotion, instinct and soul. The young hero, Hans Giebenrath, is the talented son of a middle-class father who is described as having a 'heartfelt veneration of money. and blind submission to the inflexible laws of bourgeois respectability. ' At fourteen, Hans is selected by his teachers to compete against thirty-two other candidates for a scholarship, the examination is torture, and he is certain he has failed. When he learns that he has come out second, he enters on his new career full of the promise which, for a while, he is able to maintain. But something is wrong: his emotional nature has been crippled and he is on the verge of a mental breakdown. He seeks relief in friendship with a liberated and rebellious fellow-student, Hermann Heilner, but this does not work. Sick and broken, he returns home to recover his health, but the damage is irreparable. The duality of man's nature, a major theme throughout Hesse's work, is represented in BENEATH THE WHEEL by the complementary figures of Hans and Hermann, the latter escaping through art and a rejection of the system, while the former is crushed beneath the wheel. Hans' progress towards oblivion unfolds with many surprises, and the sensuous beauty of nature plays its part even at tragic moments, as in the finale when Hans is infatuated with the village girl, Emma, and when he goes off on a summer afternoon's drunken spree. The translation by Michael Roloff faithfully reflects the poetic and lyrical qualities of Hermann Hesse. The first American publication of BENEATH THE WHEEL will gratify the many readers only now discovering this writer who was so far ahead of his time.


Hesse Hermann HERMANN HESSE was born in Württemberg, Germany in 1877. His parents first met at a mission in India, and the repressive piety of his upbringing contributed towards his attempted suicide in 1892. He was determined to be ‘a writer and nothing else’. A major breakthrough came with the novel Peter Camenzind (1904), and in the same year he married his first wife, who bore him three sons. In 1912, the family moved to Switzerland, but his wife’s schizophrenia, the death of his father, and the illness of his youngest son caused Hesse to suffer a breakdown. His subsequent interest in psychiatry–he got to know Carl Jung personally–and his lifelong fascination with Indian religions had a profound influence on his novels, which he called ‘biographies of the soul’ (e.g. Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, The Glass Bead Game). He married twice more. In 1946 Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, though later he devoted much of his time to painting water-colours. He died in 1962 in Montagnola, Switzerland, where he is buried.



Zeno's Picks


The Neglected Books Page

20 September 2019

www.NeglectedBooks.com: Where forgotten books are remembered
  • Gaëtan, or The Stock-Taking, by Edith de Born (1950)

    “Gaëtan consists of a 100-page discussion between the wife and the mistress of a Frenchman who has been killed in a car accident,” wrote Julian Symons in his terse review of Edith de Born’s first novel. It’s an accurate description, but also a spoiler, for through much of the book, we only know we are... Read more

    The post ...

  • Chapters 1 and 2 from In Our Metropolis, by Phyllis Livingstone (1940)

    Back in March, I posted a short item about two forgotten novels I’d come across in an advertisement in the Times Literary Supplement. Neither received much attention and both quickly disappeared from sight. I was interested in knowing more about both books, so when I had the chance to visit the British Library for a... Read more


  • Businessmen as Lovers, by Rosemary Tonks (1969)

    Businessmen as Lovers was Rosemary Tonks’ fourth novel and, to be honest, the first in which she seems to relax and not be relentlessly straining to be clever. It’s her only novel not set in London: the whole story takes place on a train through France and an island off Italy, and perhaps the setting... Read more

    The post ...

  • Actors and Directors: Two Anecdotes from Letters from an Actor, by William Redfield (1967)

    Ralph Richardson and Basil Dean Some thirty years ago, Richardson was rehearsing a play directed by Basil Dean. The latter was the last of the old-time directors on the British side of the Atlantic. By “old-time,” I mean abusive, cruel, sarcastic, and contemptuous of actors. His American equivalent, albeit far younger, would be Jed Harris.... ...

  • Letters from an Actor, by William Redfield (1967)

    In 1964, Sir John Gielgud convinced Richard Burton to star in a Broadway production of Hamlet. Still smoking hot from his big-screen romance with Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, Burton was looking to solidify his street cred as a serious actor after a few Hollywood duds. Gielgud’s motivation is a little less clear, as gradually becomes... Read more


  • The Long Sunday, by Peter Fletcher (1958)

    Church, prayer, going to Sunday services and weekday evening meetings remains the center of life for some families and communities. One hundred years ago, they were the frameworks of the rituals and values of many English people, particularly those of the class of shopkeepers and lesser professions. Each denomination and sect identified itself through its... Read

  • The Fire Escape, by Susan Kale (1960)

    The paperback editions of The Fire Escape trumpet its message: “The tragic, unvarnished story of a prostitute.” Which is a bit like plastering the banner line, “The Story of a Cockroach” across the cover of The Metamorphosis: yes, well, I guess you could say it is, but that’s actually missing the point in a pretty... Read more

    The post ...

  • Blitz Writing: Night Shift and It Was Different at the Time, by Inez Holden (2019)

    As a rule, I don’t cover in print books on this site: the fact that a book is in print is proof that it may be underappreciated, but it’s certainly not forgotten. However, I have to make an exception in the case of the Handheld Press’s recent release of two of Inez Holden’s three books... Read more


  • Journey Through a Lighted Room, by Margaret Parton (1973)

    I knew I was going to like Margaret Parton’s memoir, Journey Through a Lighted Room, on page two, when she writes of reflecting upon a Quaker meeting while “wandering aimlessly about the garden with a vodka and tonic in hand.” This is the story of a woman who wasn’t ashamed by the fact that she... Read more

    The post ...

  • The Mere Living, by B. Bergson Spiro (Betty Miller) (1933)

    Had The Mere Living not been largely forgotten by now, it would undoubtedly be saddled with an shakeable and unfavorable comparison to Virginia Wolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. For both are circadian novels (taking place within the space of a single day) set in London and both really heavily on the use of a stream of consciousness... Read more

    The post ...

Copyright © 2019 Zenosbooks. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.