Ehefrau Maria Bernoulli

© Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin

At the age of 26, while living in Basel, Hermann Hesse meets Maria Bernoulli, a woman nine years his senior who is working as a freelance photographer - the first woman, incidentally, to have done so in Switzerland - with her own studio in the old quarter of the town. She is also a talented musician. The two travel together and move in Basel's artistic circles. Shortly before they marry in 1904, Hesse writes to a friend about Mia, saying that she is a woman "at least equal to me in terms of education, experience of life, and intelligence, older than me, and in every respect a self-reliant, hard-working person." After the wedding, the couple move to Gaienhofen on Lake Constance, and during this time - in 1905, 1909, 1911 respectively - sons Bruno, Heiner and Martin are born. Mia, who was always an introspective woman, increasingly withdraws into herself while, at the same time, her husband is seeking to flee bourgeois existence through travelling and writing. It is impossible for outsiders to judge what came first: Hermann's tendency to take flight or Mia's depressions. The second of the three sons, Heiner, who is today living in Tessin at the age of 93, recalls his mother from the time spent in Berne as having been someone who enjoyed life to the full, who went out into the country a lot with her children, took them hiking in the mountains, and on swimming excursions. Mia would appear to have frequently suffered from sciatica, yet her psychiatric illness did not occur until 1918.

 

One thing that is certain is the fact that the move to Berne in 1912 was unable to salvage the marriage, and by 1918 a resolve was maturing in Hesse to bring about a physical separation, which coincided with a drastic deterioration in Mia's health and her admission to a psychiatric clinic. Even during this time, Hesse retains a basically respectful attitude and continues to regard Mia as a strong personality. In February 1919, for example, he writes to a female friend, stating that he has often done Mia wrong, that she is of better character than he, and is of good, strong constitution. In the fairy-tale "Iris," which Hesse writes after the separation and dedicates to Mia, he says: "She best liked to live surrounded by flowers and music and, perhaps, with a book, in quiet seclusion …. Sometimes she was so tender and sensitive that anything unknown or unfamiliar would hurt her and easily make her cry … Other times, she would be radiant in a hushed and delicate manner, suggesting a lonely happiness, and whoever witnessed such a moment would realize how hard it was to give this beautiful and strange woman anything, or to mean anything to her." After Mia has overcome her psychic crisis, she is soon back on "her own two feet" once again, organizing the clearance of the household in Berne and her own move to Ascona. In older age, she first goes to live with her son Martin in Berne and later to a nursing home, where she dies at the age of 95. Right up to the end, she retains a wide variety of interests and continues to devote herself to the piano playing she loved so much.