– Translated from German by Basil Creighton. Revised by Walter Sorrel. Penguin Books 2011, 254 p. ISBN 978-0-241-95152-1
Read from January 31st to March 24th 2017
In a note of the 1961 edition of Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse, feeling that his novel was wrongly or at least insufficiently perceived by some readers, suggests a reading key that would cover not only “Steppenwolf’s world of suffering”, but also that “positive, serene, superpersonal and timeless world of faith” represented by art and its “immortal” creators. Simply put, he encourages us to always keep in mind, while reading, the dichotomy between the material and spiritual world, dichotomy familiar to those who had already read Damien or Siddhartha.
This reading key will be elaborated by the first narrative voice in a Preface that not only makes a first portrait of the main character, Harry Haller, but also presents some of the themes of the book, such as the insignificant but suffocating bourgeois life, the call of eternity through art, the suicide solution and so on.
The Preface, written by what many a critic named the Editor, introduces also a well-known structural motive: the found manuscript (which, as we’ll see, encloses a second one). This first narrator, the nephew of Harry’s landlady, was left a copybook with a short note that gave him permission to do with it whatever he wanted to. His decision to publish it is sustained by his belief that it is a document of the time, that Harry Haller’s journey through hell is not a solitary one but represents the struggle of a generation,
“…for Haller’s sickness of the soul, as I now know, is not the eccentricity of a single individual, but the sickness of the times themselves, the neurosis of that generation to which Haller belongs, a sickness, it seems, that by no means attacks the weak and worthless only but rather those who are strongest in spirit and richest in gifts.”