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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.

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

 

   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.

 



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