Authors: Hermann Hesse
With a passionate determination to forget and to lose himself, the sufferer in flight from lurking anxieties immersed himself in this foreign world. He walked out into the open country, country of attractive, industriously tended farmlands. Neither the peasants nor their lands reminded him of the farms of his own country, but rather of Homer and the Romans; there was something age-old, cultivated and yet primitive, about this landscape. It had an innocence and a maturity lacking in the north. The small chapels and shrines, brightly painted and gently crumbling, most often adorned with bouquets of wildflowers brought by children, stood everywhere along the roads in honor of saints. They seemed to him to have the same meaning and to derive from the same spirit as the many small sanctuaries of the ancients which honored a divinity in every grove, spring, and mountain. There was a serene piety about them that smelled of bread and wine and health.
He turned back to the town, walked under echoing arcades, tired himself out on rough cobblestone pavements, peered curiously into open stores and workshops, bought Italian newspapers without reading them, and finally, thoroughly tired, found himself in a splendid lakeside park. Tourists were strolling about or sitting on benches reading, and tremendous old trees hung like dark vaults above blackish-green water, as if infatuated with their reflections. A host of improbable plants, smoke tree and snakewood, cork oaks and other rarities, dotted the lawns, their shapes rakish or anxious or sorrowful. There were flowers everywhere. And on the distant shore across the lake glimmered, white and pink, lovely villages and country houses.
He was sitting hunched on a bench, almost on the point of nodding off, when a firm, elastic footstep startled him into wakefulness. A woman, a girl, passed by him. She was wearing russet-colored laced boots and a short skirt above flimsy net stockings. She walked vigorously, with a firm rhythm, erect and provocative. Proudly fashionable, she had a cool face with crimsoned lips and wore her golden hair piled high. For just a second in passing her glance fell upon him with that self-assured, appraising look of doormen and hotel bellboys. Indifferently, she walked on.
Certainly, Klein thought, she is right; I am not a person to be noticed. A girl like that doesn't look twice at my sort. Nevertheless, the brevity and coolness of her glance secretly pained him. He felt deprecated and despised by someone who saw only the surface, and from the depths of his past he summoned up weapons to arm himself against her. Already he had forgotten that her fine, lively shoes, her firm elastic gait, her taut leg in the thin silk stocking had for a moment fascinated him and given him pleasure. The rustling of her dress was extinguished, and the faint fragrance of her hair and skin. Cast away and crushed underfoot was the lovely breath of sex and the possibility of love that had come from her and just grazed him. Instead many memories rose up. How often he had seen such creatures, such young, self-assured, and provocative females, whether sluts or vain society women; how often their shameless provocation had irritated him, their self-assurance annoyed him, their cool, bold display of themselves repelled him. How often, on outings and in city restaurants, he had sincerely shared his wife's outrage at such unwomanly and hetaera-like creatures.
Crossly, he stretched out his legs. The woman had spoiled his good humor. He felt irritable and at a disadvantage. He knew that if this yellow-haired creature passed by once more and scrutinized him again, he would flush and decide that his clothes, his hat, his shoes, his face, his hair and beard were inadequate and inferior. The devil take her. That yellow hair alone! It was false; nowhere in the world was real hair so yellow. And she wore cosmetics, too. How anyone could so lower herself as to smear lipstick on her lipsânegroid! And such people went about as if the world belonged to them; they had that manner, that assurance, that brazenness, and took the joy out of life for decent persons.
Along with the newly roiling emotions of displeasure, vexation, and constraint another great bubble of the past simmered to the surface, and suddenly another insight: these are your wife's views you are invoking. You are setting her up as judge, you are subordinating yourself to her again! For a moment there washed over him a feeling that could perhaps be defined as: I am an ass for still counting myself among “decent people”; I am no longer one, of course; I belong just as much as this yellow-haired girl to a world which is no longer my former world, and no longer the decent world. It is one where decent and indecent no longer mean anything, where everyone is trying to live through this difficult life on his own. For the space of a moment he felt that his contempt for the yellow-haired girl was just as superficial and insincere as his onetime condemnation of Wagner the murderer, and his distaste for the other Wagner whose music he had felt to be too sensual. For a second his buried understanding, his lost self, opened its eyes and told him with its omniscient gaze that all indignation, all condemnation, all contempt were mistaken and childish and rebounded upon the poor devil who did the despising.
This good, omniscient understanding told him also that he was again confronting a mystery whose proper interpretation was important for his life, that this slut or demimondaine, this scent of elegance, seduction, and sex, was by no means repugnant and insulting to him. Rather, that he was only imagining such judgments and had hammered them into his mind out of fear of his real nature, out of fear of Wagner, out of fear of the animal or devil he might discover if he ever threw off the fetters and disguises of his moralistic respectability. Something akin to mocking laughter abruptly flared up within him, but soon subsided. The feeling of displeasure won out again. It was uncanny the way every awakening, every emotion, every thought infallibly struck him precisely where he was weak and only too susceptible to torments. Now he was caught up in his weakness once more and brooding over his misspent life, his wife, his crime, the hopelessness of his future. Anxiety returned; the omniscient ego sank beneath the surface like an unheard sigh. Oh, what agony! No, the yellow-haired girl was not to blame for this. And all the intense feelings he had directed against her did her no harm, of course; they struck only himself.
He got up and began walking. In the past he had often thought he was leading a fairly solitary life, and with a measure of vanity had ascribed this to a certain resigned philosophic quality in himself. Among his associates, moreover, he had the reputation of being a scholar, reader, and secret intellectual. Good Lord, he had never been solitary! He had talked with his associates, with his wife, with his children, with all sorts of people, and such talk had made the days pass and his cares bearable. Even when he had been alone, it had been no sort of solitude. He had shared the opinions, anxieties, joys, and comforts of many others, of a whole world. Community had always been all around him and had penetrated deep into him, and even in solitude, in suffering and in resignation, he had always belonged to a group, a protective association, the world of decent, righteous, and respectable people. But now, now he was tasting loneliness. Every arrow struck him directly, every reason for comfort proved pointless, every escape from anxiety only led back into that world with which he had broken, which had broken him and slipped away from him. Everything that had been good and right all his life was no longer good and right. He had to draw everything out of himself now. Nobody was helping him. And what did he find inside himself? Nothing but disorder and dissension.
An automobile came toward him, and as he stepped out of the way it diverted his thoughts, threw new fodder to them. In his head he felt the giddiness and emptiness of insomnia. “Automobile,” he thought, or said the word under his breath, not knowing what it meant. Closing his eyes for a moment after an onrush of weakness, he saw a picture that seemed familiar, that reminded him of something and infused new blood into his thoughts. He saw himself sitting at the wheel of a car and steering it. That was a dream he had once dreamed. In the dream-feeling that he had knocked the driver down and seized the wheel himself there had been something like liberation and triumph. There was comfort there somewhere, though hard to find. But it was there. If only in fantasy or in dream there was the sweet possibility of guiding his vehicle all by himself, of knocking any other driver off the seat with mocking laughter, and even if the vehicle thereafter acted capriciously, drove over sidewalks or into houses and people, it was still a delicious thing to do and far better than being sheltered and riding under the tutelage of others, remaining a child forever.
A child? He had to smile. The recollection came that as a child and young man he had hated and cursed his name Klein because it meant “small.” Now that was no longer his name. Was that not importantâa symbol, a parable? He had ceased to be small and a child; he would no longer let himself be led around by others.
In the hotel he had a good mild wine with his meal; he had ordered the wine at random, but noted its name. There were few things that helped you, few that comforted and made life easier; it was important to know what these few things were. This wine was one such, and the southern air and landscape another. What else? Were there more? Yes, thinking was another of those comforting things that did you good and helped you live. But not all kinds of thinking. Oh no, there was a way of thinking that was torture and madness. There was a way of thinking that was a pawing over of what could not be changed and led to nothing but disgust, worry, and surfeit with life. What you had to seek and learn was a different kind of thinking. Was it a form of thinking at all? It was a condition, an inner state, which could last only for moments and was spoiled by strenuous efforts to think. In this highly desirable state you had inspirations, memories, visions, fantasies, insights of a special kind. The thought (or dream) of the automobile was of that good and comforting kind, and so was the sudden memory of Wagner the killer and of that discussion about him years ago. The curious insight about the name Klein was another. When you had such thoughts, such inspirations, the anxiety receded for a few moments and the horrible sense of nausea gave way to a rapid flash of security. Then the feeling came that all was well, that loneliness was proud and strong, the past overcome, the near future without terrors.
This was something he had to grasp, something he had to teach himself. His salvation lay in such thoughts, in finding his way to them, in evoking them from himself and cultivating them. He pondered and pondered. He did not know how he had passed the afternoon; the hours melted away as if in sleep, and perhaps he actually had sleptâwho could tell. Again and again his thoughts circled around that mystery. He thought hard and long about his encounter with the yellow-haired girl. What did she mean? How was it that this brief episode, that momentary exchange of glances with an alien, beautiful, but reprehensible woman should for long hours have become the source of thoughts, feelings, excitements, memories, self-torments, indictments? How was it? Did this sort of thing happen to others also? Why had her figure, her walk, her leg, her shoes and stockings delighted him for the fraction of a moment? And then why had her coolly appraising look so severely disillusioned him? Why had that annoying look not merely disillusioned him and shaken him from his brief, erotic enchantment, but also insulted, offended, and devalued him to himself? Why had he opposed that glance with words and memories that belonged entirely to his former world, that no longer had any meaning? Why had he adduced reasons he no longer believed in? He had summoned up his wife's judgments, his colleagues' words, his former self's thoughts and opinions, the ideas of the respectable citizen and official he no longer was, to attack that yellow-haired woman and her scathing glance. He had felt the need to use every conceivable means to justify himself in the face of that glance, and he should have realized that all his means were a heap of old coins that would no longer pass for currency. And all these painful, protracted considerations had yielded nothing but heavy spirits, uneasiness, and painful feelings of his own wrongness. But for a single moment he had felt that other, so intensely desirable condition; for a moment he had inwardly shaken his head over all these painful considerations and had known better. He had known, for just a second, this: My thoughts about the yellow-haired girl are stupid and unworthy. She is as subject to fate as I am. God loves her as he loves me.
Whence had this sweet voice come? Where could he find it again, how coax it to return? On what branch was this rare, shy bird perched? This voice spoke the truth, and truth was a blessing, was healing and refuge. This voice arose when he was at one with destiny in his own heart and when he loved himself; it was God's voice, or else it was the voice of his truest, innermost self, beyond all lies, apologies, and farces.
Why could he not hear this voice all the time? Why did truth always fly past him like a phantom that is only half glimpsed as it scurries by, and vanishes when you look straight at it? Why did he repeatedly see this gateway to happiness standing open, and why did it swing shut in his face whenever he wanted to enter?
In his room, awakening from a doze, he reached for a small volume of Schopenhauer that lay on his night table. He usually took the book with him on travels. He opened it at random and read a sentence: “Whenever we look back upon the portion of life's road we have traversed, and when we fix our gaze upon our unfortunate steps in particular, along with their consequences, we often do not understand how we were able to do this or omit that; so that it appears as if an alien power guided our steps. Goethe says in
Man thinks he directs his life, leads himself; but his innermost being is irresistibly drawn in the direction of his destiny.” Was there not something here that concerned him? Something intimately connected with his thoughts today? Avidly, he read on, but nothing more came; the subsequent lines and sentences left him unmoved. He laid the book aside, looked at his watch, found that he had forgotten to wind it and it had run down. Getting up, he looked out of the window. It seemed to be nearly evening.