Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse Short Stories by Two German Nobel Prize Winners

"Infant Prodigy" by Thomas Mann (1903, 5 pages)
"Within and Without" by Herman Hesse (1920, 9 pages)

When I saw that  Lizzy's Literary Life was having a November event  devoted to reading and posting on German literature I knew I wanted to participate.  Today I am posting on short stories by two of the Greatest German writers of the 20th century, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse.       

On November 5, I read "Germelshausen" by Friedrich Gerstacker (1816 to 1872-Hamburg, Germany).  It is  a very interesting fun to read short story from which the plot  of Brigadoon was lifted.

Gerstacker is a minor writer, pretty much forgotten but for this one story.   Thomas Mann (1875 to 1955) and Hermann Hesse (1877 to 1962), both Nobel Prize winners, are towering cultural icons best known for novels but both wrote a number of well regarded short stories.  

I will just post briefly on the two stories so readers can get an idea of them.

Thomas Mann (there is additional information on my post on his most famous work, The Magic Mountain) won the Nobel Prize  in 1929.   Mann fled Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power.   He moved to the United States in 1939.   

"An Infant Prodigy" (1903) is one of Mann's earliest published works.    Told in the third person it is the story of a piano concert by an eight year old boy who is considered a musical prodigy of great talent.    It is very interesting in that we see how various members of the audience view him and relate to their experience of his music and we see how the boy feels about his own playing and the people that come to see him.  It is a good story and worth reading.

You can read the story here (I have no translator information for the story.)

Hermann Hesse won the Nobel Prize in 1946.   (I wonder what political message might have been intended by the giving this prize to a German right after the war).   He is most famous now for two of his novels, Steppenwolf (1927) and Siddharta (1922).   I have seen a number of book blog posts on Siddhartha.   During the 1960s Hesse's work was very in vogue with the "counter-culture" of the time for its seeming repudiation of the shallow values of the west.   I read at one time pretty much all of his translated novels.  During WWII Hesse remained silent.    His work was eventually banned from publication by the Nazis.

One of the dominant themes of Hesse's work is the divide between science and rationality versus magic and spirituality.  

"Within and Without" very much captures a lot of the main themes of Hesse.   The story is about a man whose whole is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge.   By that he means knowledge based only on science and logic.   He was aware that there are other kinds of knowledge.   He tolerate religion as it is the accepted thing to do among scientists in his society.   He hates what he calls superstition and any belief in anything that science and logic do not support.   Of course as the story proceeds events will radically undercut his world view.   He hates the then fashionable idea that science was just one of many ways of organizing and explaining our experience with no more validity than any of the others.   He hates all forms of mystical cults.  

One day he goes to visit a friend of his who he always felt was a total believer in science and logic.   He is horrified to see his friend has a saying on his wall that epitomizes all that the man does not believe in.   "Nothing is without, nothing is within, for what is without is within".   To him this is the worst kind of mystical thinking inspired by "decadent" eastern forces trying to undermine the culture of his country by attacking it at the very basis for thought.    As we can guess, he undergoes some heavy changes.   

I have no translator information for this story.   It does feel very much like one of his novels and captures a lot of his themes.   I guess I would recommend Hesse neophytes start with Siddhartha  (It is quite short and easy to read and there is even a movie based on it.   It is an example of Orientalizing India thought).   From there if you like it I would read Steppenwolf then maybe The Glass Bead game.    Hesse was once a super trendy writer but maybe less so now.   

Mel u


Rebecca Chapman said...

The short story by hesse sounds really interesting. Thanks for the recommendation on the order to read him too. I have been meaning too for a long time, and so I purchased The Glass bead (but still haven't got around to reading it). I might hold off until I can get a copy of Siddartha

Unknown said...

I've only read 'Siddhartha' by Hesse, so I should read more of his soon... Thomas Mann is one I've read more of though (and the magic mountain is still beckoning in the distance!).

I also posted on two German-speaking Nobel laureates, back in the first week of this challenge - different ones to yours though :)

CHE said...

I've only read Beneath the Wheel by Hesse but I do intend to get to Siddhartha eventually. I had no idea Mann and Hesse did short stories too. Excellent and informative post as always.

Mel u said...

Becky (Page Turners)-I read the Glass Bead Game also and recall it as a remarkable book also-thanks as always for your comments

Tony-In Hesse you might enjoy Stepphenwolf-The Magic Mountain is a very powerful all encompassing sort of work-thanks very much for your commnents

Che-I am find a lot of writers I thought wrote only novels wrote a lot of short stories either-until two or three months ago I had no idea that Mann and Hesse were both prolific short story writers-thanks as always for your very welcome comments.

Unknown said...

Thank you! :)

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

Great post. I have a copy Death in Venice, but I find intimidating. Your post encouraged me to give his writing a try. I didn't really like Siddhartha, but I might give Hesse's short stories a shot.

Caroline said...

Mel, once more sorry, for any confusionor misunderstanding I created on Twitter. Like this it works great. Hope you wont get spam. The one with OpenID only works well too and other bloggers said it keeps the spam out.
I'm very glad you chose to review these two stories. I am not familiar with them but I like both writers a lot. I have got almost all of Hesse's work, so should have the story too.
I like his for all the themes he incorporates, Both like to exploring athe life of artitsts but Hesse is far more spiritual.
I was wondering, since he got the Swiss passport if he got the Nobel Prize as a Swiss or as a German author.

Mel u said...

Darlyn (Your Move Dickens)-I will be reading Death In Venice in February for the reading event devoted to Venice

Caroline-Very glad you are now able to post-good question on the Swiss Passport and Identity of Hesse-I did some quick research and Hesse did seem to see him self as a Swiss/German-if he was given the Nobel Prize as if he were Swiss it is politically much different than if he were German in 1946-of course I guess most people in 1946 who could were eager to claim extra-German identities. Thanks for your comment and hosting German History Momth-

Kinna said...

I read a collection of Mann's early short stories late last year or early this year. Thanks for the Hesse short stories.

@parridhlantern said...

read a lot of Hesse, when I was younger & recall enjoying The Glass Bead Game.