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Veneration and Revolt

Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism

By Barry Stephenson
Subjects Literary Criticism, Religion
Series Editions SR Hide Details
Hardcover : 9781554581498, 300 pages, February 2009


Excerpt from the Introduction, Veneration and Revolt: Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism by Barry Stephenson

Hesse was born, raised, and educated in a Pietist culture--and this context is the basis for any thorough discussion of Hesse's literature. Hesse's emphasis on introspection and religious subjectivity; his autobiographical and confessional literary style; his ethic of self-will; his aesthetics and efforts to unify artistic and religious impulses; his conception of God; his implicit epistemology and anthropology; his moral and political views; the skepticism and cynicism with which he viewed bourgeois, fin de siècle German culture; his chiliasm and utopianism; his pluralist, ecumenical outlook; his speculative mysticism; his criticism of church and state; his conception of a spiritual realm of immortal beings; his preoccupation with the themes of sin, grace, and guilt--all these aspects of Hesse's thought and style, embodied in his literary works, owe something to and are worked out in relation to Pietism and Protestant culture.

In Part I, I develop the cultural and biographical contexts that inform Hesse's lifelong reflection on Pietism. The remaining three sections follow the chronological appearance of Hesse's major novels. These are generally recognized as Peter Camenzind (1904), Unterm Rad [Beneath the Wheel] (1906), Demian (1919), Siddhartha (1922), Der Steppenwolf (1927), Narziss und Goldmund (1930), Die Morgenlandfahrt [The Journey to the East] (1932), and Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game] (1943). Where appropriate, I will draw on other works from Hesse's corpus--letters, essays, and short stories--as well as the secondary literature on Hesse.

I have divided my study of Hesse's novels into three parts. The title of these sections suggests a developmental movement in Hesse's relationship to Pietism: “Setting Out,” “Turning Back”, and “Coming Home. ” Such a circular movement on Hesse's part was by no means neat and tidy. At the end of his life, Hesse had not achieved a complete rapprochement with the “faith of the fathers,” but neither had he completely abandoned it in the wake of the Maulbronn affair. The course of any life typically belies harmonious, uncomplicated movement. Still, if we consider Hesse's corpus as a whole, his “back and forth” was not one of being stuck in the mud, lurching forward only to be pulled back in. If Pietism was an obstacle to be overcome, it was no less a fundamental condition and context of Hesse's thought, a fact that Hesse became increasingly cognizant of as he matured as a writer. Hesse's novels reveal his lifelong Auseinandersetzung with his Pietist heritage, but they also reveal an Entwicklungsgeschichte, a developmental story of flight, recovery, and return.

They also reveal a purpose and a hope. In a late letter to his cousin Wilhelm Gundert, Hesse discusses how both men received something of the spirit and character of their grandfather's generation, through their work formed and shaped that inheritance anew, and in so doing passed it on to the next generation--“the tradition will not end. ”[15] If I imagine Hesse picking up this book--perhaps intrigued by the title--my hope is that he would conclude somebody has finally done justice to recognizing and pointing out the threads of Pietism woven into his fiction and his life.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Veneration and Revolt: Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism by Barry Stephenson Momani



Introduction: Hermann Hesse: The Missionary’s Son

Part I: Contexts

Pietism: A First Glance

The Swabian Mandarins

The Maulbronn Affair

Romantics and Pietists

Part II: Setting Out

Hesse’s “Religion of Art”

Peter Camenzind: Rejection of Aestheticism

Beneath the Wheel: The Anti-School Novel

Demian: Chiliastic Vision

War, Church, and State

Part III: Turning Back

Siddhartha: Swabian Mysticism

“Breaking the Will”

Steppenwolf: “The Hell of Myself”

Narcissus and Goldmund: Reconciliation

Part IV: Coming Home

The Journey to the East: Narrating a Life/History

Joseph Knecht and The Glass Bead Game: Spiritual Heritage






One of the most widely read German authors in the world, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. After his death, his novels enjoyed a revival of popularity, becoming a staple of popular religion and spirituality in Europe and North America.

Veneration and Revolt: Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism is the first comprehensive study of the impact of German Pietism (the religion of Hesse’s family and native Swabia) on Hesse’s life and literature. Hesse’s literature bears witness to a lifelong conversation with his religious heritage despite that in adolescence he rejected his family’s expectation that he become a theologian, cleric, and missionary.

Hesse’s Pietist upbringing and broader Swabian heritage contributed to his moral and political views, his pacifism and internationalism, the confessional and autobiographical style of his literature, his romantic mysticism, his suspicion of bourgeois culture, his ecumenical outlook, and, in an era scarred by two world wars, his hopes for the future. Veneration and Revolt offers a unique perspective on the life and works of one of the twentieth century’s most influential writers.


"The enormous commentary on Hesse rarely takes this Pietist context seriously, but according to Stephenson, it is impossible to understand Hesse without understanding Pietism. ... Stephenson's argument is compelling and its implications are striking. ... Clearly and engagingly written, thoroughly rooted in Hesse's work and the vast commentary on Hesse, Stephenson's book is a fine general introduction to Hesse, as well as a powerful argument about the roots of Hesse's art. An important contribution to Hesse studies, Veneration and Revolt also contributes significantly to the ongoing debate about the origins, meanings, and trajectories of modernity. "

- Robert Weldon Whalen, German Studies Review, 34/3, 2011

"Taking his title from Hesse, Barry Stephenson has given us the first thorough appreciation of the Nobel Prize--winner within the religious culture from which he emerged. Hesse's debt to pietism, against which he rebelled yet which he always venerated as his spiritual heritage, was long a commonplace. But no previous scholar approached the problematic topic with the requisite background in religious studies that informs this book. Beginning with the history of Pietism and its role in Swabia and German Romanticism, it moves through Hesse's life and oeuvre, exposing significant new dimensions from his early ‘religion of art’ to The Glass Bead Game. This major and highly readable contribution forces us to contemplate Hesse's novels in a wholly original and edifying light. "

- Theodore Ziolkowski, Princeton University, author of Modes of Faith (2007), and Minos and the Moderns (2008)