Shares the self-obsession that characterizes Hesse's later books, but lacks some of the even worse characteristics of same.
Nutshell: bucolic twerp self-exiles from village, reads books, drinks heavily, becomes writer, obsesses over various persons, remains unsatisfied, &c.
Begins weirdly with prosopopeia
involving the mountain scenes of the narrator's village, which matures into mythic-seeming oromachia (2). The ecophile ideology persists throughout, but the mythic mode doesn't last.
Narrator "lacked any strong urge to take sides on any of the issues" propounded by "philosophers, aestheticians, socialists" (56), and is more concerned with "the need to develop their own selves and to clarify their personal relationship to time and eternity." Okay then.
His goal, "a completion of myself" (83). Grrrreat!
He's got Hesse's normal spenglerian focus on "our declining race" (5) and the "ridiculous shabbiness of modern culture" (94). Uh huh.
Regarding the work of those "fighting for the impoverished lower classes" or those who "Strove for universal peace," "none of them matter to me" (106). A real charmer!
He dislikes people but prefers "mute nature" (123), reminiscent therefore of Jonson's Morose in Epicoene
, a "gentleman who loves no noise."
It's not like the novel is affirmatively bad or annoying--but it lacks something that I usually need in fiction. This is of course by intention of author, who proclaims, regarding "how I became the editor of a German newspaper, how I allowed too great a freedom of my pen and malicious tongue and suffered the consequences, how I became a notorious drinker" (and so on), that he will "skip this interlude and deprive those of my readers with a taste for the sordid and the intimate details" (99). He also does not present the intellectual quarrel that "forced me once more to reevaluate my opinions of modern culture," for "my book will hardly suffer if I omit them" (144-45). I contend that the book accordingly has omitted the two most interesting items--so, apparently there's a disconnect between my and Hesse's standards. Fair enough.
Recommended for those who pounce on any Werther-like feelings in themselves, persons who venerate womankind as an alien race, and readers with natural peasant cunning.