Life crisis

Hermann Hesse is seen as being the "author of crisis," as an author who, in his writings, subjected himself to the torment of self-analysis, constantly searching for his own, true identity. His parental home and upbringing had an equally major impact on both his personality and literary oeuvre. Twice in the course of his life, Hesse experienced a dramatic escalation of his mental and psychological state. After fleeing from the monastery seminary in Maulbronn in 1892, the 15-year-old Hesse was sent by his parents to Christoph Blumhardt, a theologian and friend of the family, in Bad Boll. While at the private clinic, however, Hesse attempted to take his own life, whereupon Blumhardt recommended, after just 14 days, that the young man possessed by "evil and devilry" be committed to a mental asylum. His parents subsequently had him admitted to the "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt" in Stetten, where he remained for four months. The diagnosis as noted in the medical records: melancholy. While already pulling himself together externally, Hesse was, inside of himself, still railing against his fate, writing accusatory letters home. In October 1892, Hesse was discharged from the Stetten mental asylum, and his parents managed to get him a place at the Cannstatt Gymansium, which he left after completing the "Einjähriges." A second crisis in his life coincided with the first world war, which threw the sensitive Hesse into a state of major emotional and psychological distress. A serious illness contracted by his youngest son, the death of his father in 1916, the first world war, a marital crisis, and the mental illness of his wife Mia plunged the by then already popular poet and writer into the deepest of depressions. His health was, in fact, in such a parlous state that he had to temporarily abandon the work he was doing for the welfare of prisoners of war in order - after an unsuccessful health cure - to undergo psychoanalysis at the Sonnmatt private clinic in Lucerne. He completed 72 sessions with Dr. Josef Bernhard Lang, a member of the staff of C.G. Jung, in the course of which he managed to extricate himself from his state of mental paralysis and more or less overcome the crisis. The encounter with psychoanalysis, which helped him get to grips with the conflicts experienced in his youth, proved to be a major turning point in Hesse's life. In literary terms, the period of upheaval and new beginnings found its expression in Demian (1919), which was an attempt at self-analysis and self-interpretation. Also echoed in Demian are the therapeutic conversations with Dr. Lang (who is called Pistorious in the novel): "They all, however, even the most banal, struck a gentle but continuous hammer-blow on the same spot inside me; they helped to shape me, to peel off my layers of skin, break the egg-shells, and as I emerged from each stage I raised my head a little higher with a greater feeling of freedom until my yellow bird pushed his handsome predatory head out of the shattered shell of the terrestrial globe."

 

Letter of Hermann Hesse to his father, written on 14th September 1892 while he stayed at the mental hospital in Stetten.

Hermann Hesse and the psychology (Adobe PDF, 40 kb)