Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse was a Nobel Prize-winning author known for novels like ‘Peter Camenzind,’ ‘Siddhartha’ and ‘Narcissus and Goldmund,’ among others.


Born on July 2, 1877, in Calw, Germany, Hermann Hesse cultivated a career as a poet before releasing his debut novel, Peter Camenzind, in 1904. He eventually penned acclaimed books such as Siddhartha, Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game, among other long-form works and novellas. Hesse protested German fighting in WWI and later earned the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on August 9, 1962.

Background and Education

Hermann Hesse was born on July 2, 1877, in Calw, Germany. His parents, Johannes and Marie, were of varied European ancestry and had done missionary work in India. Hesse was also expected to pursue a religious career, and at his parents urging he attended the theological seminary in Maulbronn.

But as Hesse would later remark, he did not possess a demeanor compatible with a rigid, often-oppressive educational system, having known from pre-adolescence that he loved poetry. After completing his schooling in 1893, Hesse found work in a book store, an antique store and a clock tower factory while he focused on publishing his poems and writing prose.

Debut Novel

In 1904, Hesse released his debut novel, Peter Camenzind, which won him great acclaim and allowed him to pursue his career as a writer. He followed up the next year with another long-form work, Beneath the Wheel, which tells the story of a young academic who is laid low by the rigors of duty until he finds his freedom. Hesse’s literary output over the ensuing decades would continue to explore the enduring conflict of social dictates versus personal bliss.

Protester During WWI

The same year as Peter Camenzind's publication, Hesse married Maria Bernoulli, with whom he would have three children. Living with his family in more rural surroundings, Hesse developed an interest in Eastern religion and continued to release novellas and short stories, as well as novels such as 1910’s Gertrud. Amidst family crises, Hesse also protested German fighting during World War I and as such was decried in the regional media. In the early 1920s he was granted Swiss citizenship, and his work would be banned and destroyed in Germany during the regime of Adolf Hitler.

Wins Nobel Prize

In the new decade, Hesse continued publishing novellas while earning acclaim for novels such as Siddhartha (1922), set in India during the time of the Buddha and reflecting the author’s own travels. In 1927 he published Steppenwolf, a mystical affair that chronicled the meeting of the despondent Harry Haller with the liberated Hermine. In 1930, the novel Narcissus and Goldmund followed, a metaphorical work focusing on the contrasting sensibilities of a teacher and his student.

Hesse took more than a decade to complete his next, last and longest novel, The Glass Bead Game, aka Magister Ludi, which was published in 1943 and tackled the contours of a utopian society. Hesse was awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature for his body of work, with his health barring him from traveling to Stockholm to attend the ceremony. He died on August 9, 1962, in Montagnola, Switzerland.

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