Hermann Hesse

 

Peter Camenzind

 

1904

 

Initially I was going to give it a D, because it’s one of those annoying books that talks about witty dialogue and novel characters without actually containing such dialogue or characterisation. It’s a summary, someone looking back over their life, and can get quite windy - despite being relatively short. Plot, action and dialogue are entirely secondary. There may be some insight into certain life stages, but the style doesn’t help you to enjoy it.

 

There’s some redemption towards the end, where the character moves from youthful egocentrism and arrogance to a love and appreciation for others he’d normally dismiss (such as a cripple), and a more humble perspective of his importance (i.e. he’s no more important than anyone else, and history will adjudge it so).

 

There’s stuff about coming to terms with that without bitterness or cynicism. Interesting that there’s no Christian element to this.

 

Also there is a strong parallel with the journey of Peter Camenzind and Siddharta in the novel Hesse released twenty years later. Also reminded me of Plato’s Symposium on love, moving from individuals to humanity. I’m forced to doubt how far Hesse kept the spirit of the true texts on the Buddha when it fits so nicely with his preconceptions. Maybe he’d already got these ideas from Buddhist teachings he’d been exposed to before he wrote Camenzind? Or maybe he’s just coincidentally very sympathetic. Or maybe he’s projected something inappropriately.

 

May 2002