Review: Steppenwolf

 

Steppenwolf Review: Intro

Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse’s modernist existential masterpiece, was written during the Weimar years in Germany and enjoyed a considerable resurgence in popularity as a counter-culture classic during the swinging sixties. As such, the 237-page novel is preceded by a certain reputation. My interest was piqued whilst I was studying aspects of Weimar literature and I read a brief synopsis describing the main character, with whom I felt I could instantly identify (i.e miserable, ┬áloner, not excited by anything etc.).

The title refers to the German name for the steppe wolf – or the wolf of the steppes – which, from what I can gather is a representation of a kind of duality in a person’s psyche. The wolf represents animalistic urges or desires and throughout the story the main character, Harry Haller, is continually struggling with inner conflict. He is resigned to a life of unhappiness and has thoughts of suicide, yet wonders why he has not gone through with it.

I decided to write this quick review of Steppenwolf as I found it was a challenging read that it would be beneficial to reflect upon.

 

Reading Steppenwolf

The narrative is presented through a discovered manuscript, which is found by Haller’s landlord after he moves out of his digs. The landlord also adds his own comments to the story and at one point Haller describes the content of a book he acquires – so there are several pages wherein the reader has stepped through three narrative perspectives. It’s easy enough to follow, but I found Hesse’s prose (or at least the translation) to be fairly dry at times. Given that much of the book appealed to me and seemed very relevant to my own life, I struggled to get through it.

One thing that is abundantly clear though: Herman Hesse is a very, very smart man. I knew little of his background before reading Steppenwolf, but the way in which he dissects the psyche is truly incredible. As I mentioned previously, I felt myself able to identify with the main character over and over again – something which I feel reflects the brutal honesty and accurate insight which Hesse seems to possess. Of course, the protagonists alliterative name suggests that Hesse is in fact writing about himself and this would explain the focus on Haller’s consciousness, but without reading more into the author’s background I couldn’t go any further into this.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I finished the book and I don’t have much else to say on it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Steppenwolf is a difficult read, but something in the prose just made it a little laborious. For me, the most fascinating aspects of it were of a historical context. Hesse’s characters talk of the inevitability of ‘the next war’ and at times touch upon a commonly held belief at the time that Germany did not lose the Great War. That being said, the novel is hardly portentous and I feel that, more than anything, it reflects the author’s dissatisfaction with the political situation in German. But then, what do I know?

 

 

 

 

 

The Great American Novel – Part 1

 

Flagedit

 

Fuelled by a desire to speak even more pretentiously about literature, I decided to spend the lockdown reading some classic works of American literature. More specifically, I set myself the challenge to decide my own nomination for the Great American Novel, based on a fairly commonly accepted canon of potentials.

Actually, one particular candidate for the Great American Novel is one of the reasons I studied literature in the first place. Moby Dick bored me beyond what I thought possible. As I am sure is the case with most people who are a little insecure about their intellectual capacity, I felt that there must be something lacking in me that meant I couldn’t realise Herman Melville’s so-called masterpiece as the masterpiece it was so called. I figured that completing an MA in literature with furnish me with some innate ability to realise the genius in Moby Dick – I was expecting a revelation. It didn’t happen. After a mediocre foray into academia, I think now what I thought back then: Moby Dick is shit.

But I digress….

The Great American Novel is obviously a very subjective term. One day I’d like to compile my own list and perhaps that will form part of this blog series, but for now I focused on a few commonly acknowledged American classics. I realise the following selection is not very inspired, but given that no-one will ever read this post, I don’t really care. In no particular order:

  • The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper 1826)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852)
  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck 1939)
  • The Catcher in the Rye (J. D Salinger 1951)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee 1960)
  • Moby Dick (Eurgh!) (Herman Melville 1851)
  • Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison 1952)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain 1884)
  • Absalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner 1936)

My intention here is to offer my own review of each novel, considering it’s place in the canon of American classics. It gives me an excuse to write this blog and it is something productive for me to due during these uncertain times.