Genre: German Novel (Existentialist Philosophy)

Published: 1927 - Read:


Herman Hesse (1877 - 1962)

Pages: 176


On the Introduction page ('It's reading, isn't it'), there is a reference to a Herman Hesse novel. It is quite likely this one...

The main character in Hesse's tenth novel is Harry Haller, 47 years old, and living a strange life. Nothing is very clear, but he had been a public intellectual. He has lost his job, family and and home. He rents a room in a boarding house at the beginning of the narrative, but spend much of his time absent from 'home' frequenting the bars of the city. He sees himself as the lone wolf, seeking savagery and isolation, but also as a cultured civilised man appreciating culture, society and love.

Harry contemplates suicide, but still cannot let go of his "evil days of inward emptiness and despair". Hesse experienced a 'spiritual crisis' in the 1920s. He left his wife and went to Switzerland, where he lived alone in Basel, suffering suicidal despair. This explains Harry's dreadfully accurate descriptions of depression. This is not a joyous read!

Hesse himself wrote in retrospect that Steppenwolf had been misunderstoon by its first readers - mainly because they were too young to appreciate it properly.

Steppenwolf's longing for love and culture is seen here:

I had not, as usually, been with Hermine that evening. I had been to a recital of old church music in the Cathedral, a beautiful, though melancholy, excursion into my past life, to the fields of my youth, the territory of my ideal self. Beneath the lofty Gothic of the church whose netted vaulting swayed with a ghostly life in the play of the sparse lights, I heard pieces by Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Bach and Haydn. I had gone the old beloved way once more. I had heard the magnificent voice of a Bach singer with whom, in the old days when we were friends, I had enjoyed many a memorable musical occasion. The notes of the old music with its external dignity and sanctity had called to life all the exalted enchantment and enthusiasm of youth. I had sat in the lofty choir, sad and abstracted, a guest for an hour of this noble and blessed world which once had been my home. During a Haydn duet the tears had come suddenly to my eyes.

And again:

During that wonderful first night and the days that followed Maria taught me much. She taught me the charming play and delights of the senses, but she gave me, also, new understanding, new insight, new love. The world of the dance and pleasure resorts, the cinemas, bars and hotel lounges that for me, the hermit and esthete, had always about it something trivial, forbidden, and degrading, was for Maria and Hermine and their companions the world pure and simple. It was neither good nor bad, neither loved nor hated. In this world their brief and eager lives flowered and faded. They were at home in it and knew all its ways- They loved a champagne or a special dish at a restaurant as one of us might a composer or poet, and they lavished the same enthusiasm and rapture and emotion on the latest craze in dances or the sentimental cloying song of a jazz singer as one of us on Nietzsche or Hamsun. Maria talked to me about the handsome saxophone player, Pablo, and spoke of an American song that he had sung them sometimes, and she was so carried away with admiration and love as she spoke of it that I was far more moved and impressed than by the ecstasies of any highly cultured person over artistic pleasures of the rarest and most distinguished quality.



Steppenwolf has been criticised for its lack of morality in its open depiction of sex and drug use. It became a cult classic in the 1960s for the same reason!