Hermann Hesse, “Der Steppenwollf”, Herman Hesse,1927, Translated by S. Apt, 2011,Published in Russian AST Publishers, 2017.

First of all, I would like to thank the wonderful translators from German into Russian Mr. S. Apt, and then from German into English Mr. B. Creighton updated by J. Mileck for their great work to enable the understanding of this philosophical novel “Der Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse written in 1927. Without them it would not have happened.

How did this book appear to be in my hands?

From Larisa, my daughter, who likes to read books while travelling to me to Canada last summer. Who left it for me upon finishing her reading. Thanks, daughter.

The beauty of the novel “Der Steppenwolf” is seen in its heroic struggle of the protagonist Harry Haller with what lies within his soul, his shadow, his second half which is called her as :Steppenwolf”. The main accent as far as I consider, is made on p.p.56-57:

“We met at a café on the following afternoon. Hermine was there before me, drinking tea, and she pointed with a smile to my name which she had found in a newspaper. It was one of the reactionary jingo papers of my own district in which from time to time violently abusive references to me were circulated. During the war I had been opposed to it and, after, I had from time to time counseled quiet and patience and humanity and a criticism that began at home; and I «Harry Haller» had resisted the nationalist jingoism that became every day more pronounced, more insane and unrestrained. Here, then, was another attack of this kind, badly written, in part the work of the editor himself and in part stolen from articles of a similar kind in papers of similar tendencies to his own. It is common knowledge that no one writes worse than these defenders of decrepit ideas. No one plies his trade with less of decency and conscientious care. Hermine had read the article, and it had informed her that Harry Haller was a noxious insect and a man who disowned his native land, and that it stood to reason that no good could come to the country so long as such persons and such ideas were tolerated and the minds of the young turned to sentimental ideas of humanity instead of to revenge by arms upon the hereditary foe. “Is that you?” asked Hermine, pointing to my name. “Well, you’ve made yourself some enemies and no mistake. Does it annoy you?” I read a few lines. There was not a single line of stereotyped abuse that had not been drummed into me for years till I was sick and tired of it. “No,” I said, “it doesn’t annoy me. I was used to it long ago. Now and again I have expressed the opinion that every nation, and even every person, would do better, instead of rocking himself to sleep with political catchwords about war guilt, to ask himself how far his own faults and negligences and evil tendencies are guilty of the war and all the other wrongs of the world, and that therein lies the only possible means of avoiding the next war. They don’t forgive me that, for, of course, they are themselves all guiltless, the Kaiser, the generals, the trade magnates, the politicians, the papers. Not one of them has the least thing to blame himself for. Not one has any guilt. One might believe that everything was for the best, even though a few million men lie under the ground. And mind you, Hermine, even though such abusive articles cannot annoy me any longer, they often sadden me all the same. Two-thirds of my countrymen read this kind of newspaper, read things written in this tone every morning and every night, are every day worked up and admonished and incited, and robbed of their peace of mind and better feelings by them, and the end and aim of it all is to have the war over again, the next war that draws nearer and nearer, and it will be a good deal more horrible than the last. All that is perfectly clear and simple. Any one could comprehend it and reach the same conclusion after a moment’s reflection. But nobody wants to. Nobody wants to avoid the next war, nobody wants to spare himself and his children the next holocaust if this be the cost. To reflect for one moment, to examine himself for a while and ask what share he has in the world’s confusion and wickedness—look you, nobody wants to do that. And so there’s no stopping it, and the next war is being pushed on with enthusiasm by thousands upon thousands day by day. It has paralysed me since I knew it, and brought me to despair. I have no country and no ideals left. All that comes to nothing but decorations for the gentlemen by whom the next slaughter is ushered in. There is no sense in thinking or saying or writing anything of human import, to bother one’s head with thoughts of goodness—for two or three men who do that, there are thousands of papers, periodicals, speeches, meetings in public and in private, that make the opposite their daily endeavor and succeed in it too.” Hermine had listened attentively. “Yes,” she said now, “there you’re right enough. Of course, there will be another war. One doesn’t need to read the papers to know that. And of course one can be sad about it, but it isn’t any use. It is just the same as when a man is sad to think that one day, in spite of his utmost efforts to prevent it, he will inevitably die. The war against death, dear Harry, is always a beautiful, noble and wonderful and glorious thing, and so, it follows, is the war against war. But it is always hopeless and quixotic too.” “That is perhaps true,” I cried heatedly, “but truths like that—that we must all soon be dead and so it is all one and the same—make the whole of life flat and stupid. Are we then to throw everything up and renounce the spirit altogether and all effort and all that is human and let ambition and money rule forever while we await the next mobilisation over a glass of beer?” Remarkable the look that Hermine now gave me, a look full of amusement, full of irony and roguishness and fellow feeling, and at the same time so grave, so wise, so unfathomably serious. “You shan’t do that,” she said in a voice that was quite maternal. “Your life will not be flat and dull even though you know that your war will never be victorious. It is far flatter, Harry, to fight for something good and ideal and to know all the time that you are bound to attain it. Are ideals attainable? Do we live to abolish death? No—we live to fear it and then again to love it, and just for death’s sake it is that our spark of life glows for an hour now and then so brightly. You’re a child, Harry. Now, do as I tell you and come along. We’ve a lot to get done today. I am not going to bother myself any more today about the war or the papers either. What about you?” Oh, no, I had no wish to.”

1927… when in the Europe is lingering an ugly ghost of the War. By the way, it is still wandering around the world, the bloody Ghost, showing that the people cannot and are not able to live in harmony and peace…

Hesse is an author who places great demands on readers who approach his work seriously. He expects that nothing be taken on face value, that no one point of view be fully adopted, that no single character be completely believed or identified with. Everything must be read in relation to everything else, everything judged not only within its own proper context, but also in light of what follows and what has preceded. 

Listen more carefully to Hesse’s words and try to avoid the previous mistakes, people!

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