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    Hermann Hesse and Estonia

    Hermann Hesse and Estonia

    » Hermann Hesse and E...

    Ingliskeelne uurimustöö Hermann Hesse seostest Eestiga. Meie veebis avaldamise põhjus selles, et kirjanik Hesse on oma päritolu poolest seotud Paidega: siin elas ja töötas maakonnarstina aastatel 1830-1896 tema vanaisa Carl Hermann Hesse ja sündis tema isa Johann Hesse.

    Hermann Hesse and Estonia
    Anneli Mihkelev

    There are two relationships between Hermann Hesse and Estonia.  Although Hermann Hesse was never in Estonia, he still knew our country because it was his ancestors’ homeland. His great-grandparents (his great-grandfather Barthold Joachim Hesse and great-grandmother C.E. Sengbusch) lived in Dorpat (Tartu), which they had come to from North-Germany in connection with a brewery in 18th century (Kasesalu 2002: 21). Hesse wrote, in the preface of Monika Hunnius’ book Mein Onkel Hermann (My Uncle Hermann, 1921), that he knew that place (i.e. Paide) better than those cities and countries which he had seen, because his father and grandfather had talked about Weissenstein (Paide) and Estonia a great deal (Hesse 2000: 7-8). Although Hesse said that he had never been interested in his genealogy, his grandfather was a person he felt very close to. The correspondence between Hermann Hesse and his grandfather created an idealized picture of Estonia for the writer.

    Hesse’s grandfather, Karl Hermann Hesse, was born in Tartu in 1802. He graduated from Tartu University, and received his medical degree in 1827, after which he continued his studies in Berlin. He became the district doctor in Weissenstein (Paide) in 1830, and died there in 1896.

    Hesse’s father, Karl Otto Johannes (1847-1916), was also born in Paide as was his uncle, who studied, and later worked, in Tallinn as a pastor. Hesse’s father was a missionary in India and later lived in Germany.

    So Hesse knew Estonia and Paide through beautiful stories which were similar to the stories which were written by Monika Hunnius in Mein Onkel Hermann. It is difficult to say how these stories influenced Hesse’s works. Perhaps that influence is too covert to be recognized by the reader. Maybe the influence of Hesse’s childhood and family was expressed through a striving for perfection: as he wrote in the epilogue of Der Steppenwolf (A Wolf of Steppe, 1927), the sufferings of Harry Haller are contrasted with a better, more positive world, i.e. the world of art and the spirit. And Hesse himself said that Der Steppenwolf was not a book of suffering and distress, but rather a book of belief (Hesse 1973: 175). Hesse tried to dive into himself, catch essentiality and forget pointless reality, as Estonian researcher Mati Sirkel has written (Sirkel 2004: 133-139). I think this is also a very important point for Estonia. If we consider the reception of Hesse’s works, we can say that Hesse was in Estonia, through his works, throughout the 20th century, and perhaps at the beginning of the 21st century too.

    Reception in Estonia

    The reception of Hesse’s works in Estonia forms the second relationship between Hermann Hesse and Estonia. Concerning the reception, we can say that Hesse has had many congenial colleagues in Estonian literature. 

    The first of Hesse’s books in Estonian was the collection of short stories Eelkevad (Early Spring) published in 1929. That little book contains two short stories from Hesse’s earlier works. The first is from the cycle about Knulp (from the book Knulp. Drei Geschichten aus dem Leben Knulps, 1915), and the second one’s title is Garibaldi. So average Estonian readers knew Hesse in the 1930s as a romantic and idyllic writer (Sirkel 2004: 128). Hesse’s other works were well known to our poets and intellectuals, who read his books in their original language. As Mati Sirkel has suggested, Hesse’s works influenced the Estonian group Arbujad in the 1930s (ibid.). The members of the Arbujad group were a part of the generation which was opposed to the political shift after 1934. They cultivated philosophical and spiritual poetry, and brought a new wave of aestheticism and neo-romanticism to Estonian literature. The opposition between political power and the spirit was very strong in the 1930s in Estonia. This spiritual opposition, the sabotage of the political system cultivated by the Arbujad group, lived on into the Soviet era, and has sometimes been active in recent poetry.

    Hesse’s works have also influenced Estonian prose writers. Sometimes they were hermits like Hesse. For example Leo Anvelt, who wrote short stories in the 1930s, said that Hesse’s stories were some of his favourites, and that he felt a kinship with Hesse (Kaalep 1997: 410-411).  It is interesting that Leo Anvelt’s works did not belong to the mainstream of the 1930s and became more popular in the 1980s. 

    Although Hesse’s stories and novels were well-known before World War II in Estonia, most of Hesse’s works were translated and published in Soviet times: in the 1960s and 1970s, Klingsori viimane suvi (Klingsor’s last Summer, 1965; the original Klingsors letzter Sommer, 1920), a collection of short stories from the book Wanderungen (1927), under the title Unenäokingitus (1970), and the novels Stepihunt (1972, the original Der Steppenwolf, 1927) and Klaaspärlimäng (The Glass Bead Game, 1976; the original Das Glasperlenspiel, 1943). Many more of Hesse’s books were translated in the 1990s.

    Hesse and Ristikivi

    Hesse’s works had a tremendous influence on Estonian literature in exile. Karl Ristikivi, who lived in Sweden, wrote the novel Hingede öö (All Souls Night, 1953), one of the most innovative books in Estonian literature written either in exile or in Estonia. A tragic awareness of his time, and of all human life, is very important in Hesse’s works and that awareness was also influenced by 20th century modernism. Of course the atmosphere at the beginning of the 20th century created many writers who sought an exit from deadlock or who represented situations of deadlock (Kafka, Mann, Joyce, Hamsun etc).  I think it is not surprising that Hesse’s greatest influence came to Estonia through an exile writer who was also a homeless wanderer in the world. The relationship between Hesse’s and Ristikivi’s novels was not only an influence but also a recognition of kinship.

    Although Hesses’s Der Steppenwolf was published in 1927, the influence of the book increased and expanded step by step in European literature. The spirit of the 20th century was expressed in Hesse’s works and he was one of the first writers to perceive that spirit. Individualism and loneliness were characteristic of the 20th century, and the roots of individualism came from the romanticism of the 19th century. Hesse connected those phenomena through topics which were important for people of the 20th century: the relationships between the spiritual and sensual, between power and spirit, and between the life of the bourgeois and the life of the artist. Wars and exile added new aspects and experiences to the spirit of the 20th century, but something which was characteristic of Hesse remains and quite often appears in the works of different writers, including Estonian writers. 

    In Ristikivi’s novel All Souls Night, there is an episode in which the main character of the novel wanders through the house of a dead man on New Year’s night and sees a peculiar coat of arms on the wall. There is a great contrast between the colours of the coat of arms and the wall: the room is dark, i.e. black and grey, but the coat of arms shows a white wolf against a red background. The character’s first thought is that this is Jack London’s “White Fang”, but then he recognizes that it is Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf and he is shocked. He says, “I felt all along that I was in a forbidden house and didn’t have the right to be there. I was in Hermann Hesse’s house from his Der Steppenwolf which is ‘only for the mad’”. 

    Both novels, Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf and Ristikivi’s All Souls Night were influenced by Jung, as Estonian exile researcher Hellar Grabbi has suggested (Grabbi 1999: 137). Jaan Undusk has written that All Souls Night is a very significant novel in Estonian literature: although its influence has been covert, it has also been deep and total. It was the expression of the sense of the 20th century life: existentialism (Undusk 1991: 254-255). Another researcher, Rein Veidemann, also stresses the aspect of existentialism: “Karl Ristikivi’s novel Hingede öö /- - -/ can be considered as a manifesto of existentialism in the Estonian literature of the 1950s. Ristikivi himself has confessed that his model was Hermann Hesse, who in turn had been influenced by Albert Camus. Existentialism found an especially strong resonance in the Estonian literature of the second half of the 1960s. It was promoted by the absurdity of the whole Soviet life…” (Veidemann 2000: 50). It seems that, thanks to Hesse, the Estonian novel turned towards modernism.

    Reception in the 1960s

    In my opinion, Ristikivi’s novel was a prelude to, and the model for, Estonian literature, both in exile and at home during the years when there was a boom in Hesse’s works in Estonia as well as in other European countries and in the American. The 1960s were a time when translations from modern European and American literature influenced Estonian literature greatly: it was the time of the political “thaw”. The generation of the 1960s (e.g. Jaan Kaplinski, Mati Unt, Paul-Eerik Rummo and others) was influenced by Hesse’s worldview. The conflict between political power and the spirit was especially strong again in the 1960s because the Estonian young generation was interested in the intellectual heritage of the years before World War II (Sirkel 2004: 152). The idealistic and spiritual individualism of the young generation was in opposition to official power. Although several translations of Hesse’s works were available only in manuscript (for example Siddhartha, which was published in 1986), the spirit of Hesse’s works was well known in Estonian literature.

    But the boom in Hesse’s works differed in Estonia (perhaps also in other East-European countries) from that in Western European and American countries. The meaning of Hesse was not the same in Western Europe as it was in Estonia. Hesse’s novels, especially Der Steppenwolf and Siddhartha, were very popular among young people in Europe in the 1960s, because Hesse’s books expressed a rebellion against stagnation, and that kind of ideology was very congenial to the hippie movement. But the political context was different in Western Europe and Estonia. Our protest was more covert, while the protest movements in Europe were democratic protests in free countries. Although Estonians remembered Europe as it was before the war, that Europe did not exist at the end of the 1960s. In our minds, Europe was a museum and that is the reason why Hesse’s works meant something different for Estonians than for European hippies: Hesse’s works meant a connection with a better, spiritual, idealized world which existed in our national memory, the world before World War II. It is unreality not reality that our readers saw in Hesse's novels and that bound them to his works. But that unreality was also quite similar to Hesse’s better world, i.e. the world of art and spirit. Perhaps in the Baltic States readers read Hesse’s works as the author himself had hoped they would be read. As Hesse himself wrote in the afterword of “Der Steppenwolf”, European readers understood his works only partially. Of course this was only an opinion and does not mean that anybody read the texts incorrectly. It seems only that, in the Baltic States, reality was so absurd that readers did not need to create it in an artistic way, or through the use of LSD. That reality in Soviet Estonia was quite similar to Hesse’s reality in the first half of the 20th century in Germany, which he wanted to forget but at the same time represented in his works, and he also knew that a better world existed somewhere. Perhaps those kinds of thoughts were also in Baltic readers’ minds a recognition.               

    The influence of Hesse’s works continues in our recent poetry, via the works of the Arbujad group and the new translations of Hesse’s works. It seems that the reception of Hesse’s works is quite similar to what it was in the 1960s in Europe, but it is sometimes also a nostalgic look back at the 1960s as though the Soviet regime had never existed and we had been in Europe as hippies. But of course different readings are possible in our time, i.e. Hesse’s novels and stories have more than one meaning.   


    Grabbi, Hellar 1999. Tulgu uus teavas: mõtteid viiekümnest kirjanikust. Tallinn: Virgela. 
    Hesse, Hermann 1973. Stepihunt. Loomingu Raamatukogu, No 49-52. Tallinn: Perioodika.
    Hesse, Hermann 2000. Saatesõna. -  Monika Hunnius, Minu onu Hermann. Meenutusi Eestimaast. Tallinn: Kupar, pp 7-8.
    Kaalep, Ain 1997. Kolm Lydiat. Tartu: Ilmamaa.
    Kasesalu, Helle 2002. Hermann Hesse verbindungen zu Estland.  – Deutsch in Estland, no 17, pp 21-22.
    Sirkel, Mati 2004. Orva-aastad. Valik ees-, vahe- ja järelsõnu tõlgetele ning mõned lehelood. Tallinn: Tuum.
    Undusk, Jaan 1991. Millegipärast. – Karl Ristikivi, Hingede öö. Tallinn: Eesti  Raamat, lk 250-256.
    Veidemann, Rein 2000. Eksistentsialistliku paradigma avaldusi. – Taasleitud aeg. Eesti ja soome kirjanduse muutumine 1950. - 1960. aastatel. Tartu Ülikooli eesti kirjanduse õppetooli toimetised 2. Tartu: Taru Ülikool, lk 41-50.

    Hermann Hesse’s works in Estonian

    Eelkevad (Early Spring) [short stories from the book Knulp. Drei Geschichten aus dem Leben Knulps, 1915], Tartu 1929

    Mägede poeg [Peter Camenzind, 1904], Toronto 1952

    Klingsori viimane suvi [Klingsors letzter Sommer, 1920], Tallinn 1965

    Unenäokingitus (The Gift of Dream) [translated from the books Wanderungen, 1927; Späte Prosa, 1951; Beschwörungen. Späte Prosa (Neue Folge) von Hermann Hesse, 1955], Tallinn 1970

    Stepihunt [Der Steppenwolf, 1927], Tallinn 1973

    Klaaspärlimäng. Magister Ludi Josef Knechti eluloo kirjeldamise katse koos Knechti järelejäänud kirjatöödega [Das Glasperlenspiel. Versuch einer Lebensbeschreibung des Magister Ludi Josef Knecht samt Knechts hinterlassenen Schriften, 1943], Tallinn 1976

    Siddhartha. Hommikumaaränd [Siddhartha. Eine indische Dichtung von Hermann Hesse, 1922, and Die Morgenlandfahrt, 1932], Tallinn 1986

    Raamatute lugemisest [Vom Bücherlesen, 1920] - Akadeemia 1990, no 10, pp 2082-2088

    Lõputu unenägu: muinasjutte, autobiograafilist (The Endless Dream: the Fairy Tales, Autobiographical)  [from the books Die Morgenlandfahrt, 1932; Merkwürdige Nachricht von einem andern Stern Märchen, 1985], Tallinn 1990

    Demian. Emil Sinclairi nooruse lugu [Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend, 1923], Tallinn 1994

    Fantaasiad [from the books Betrachtungen, 1928 and Blick ins Chaos. Drei Aufsätze, 1921], Tallinn 1995

    Narziss ja Goldmund [Narziss und Goldmund. Erzählung, 1930], Tallinn 1995, 1996

    Gertrud, Tallinn 1997

    Knulp. Kolm lugu Knulpi elust [Knulp. Kurgast, 1974], Tallinn 1997

    Võluri sõnad. Tsitaadid (The Words of Enchanter. Quotations), Tallinn 2000

    Keel [Sprache, 1917] – Akadeemia 2002, no 8, pp 1658-1663

    Supelsaks. Ülestähendusi Badeni tervisevetelt [Kurgast. Aufzeichnungen von einer Baden Kur, 1925], Tallinn 2003

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