A Penguin Classic
A young man awakens to selfhood and to a world of possibilities beyond the conventions of his upbringing in Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse’s beloved novel Demian. Emil Sinclair is a quiet boy drawn into a forbidden yet seductive realm of petty crime and defiance. His guide is his precocious, mysterious classmate Max Demian, who provokes in Emil a search for self-discovery and spiritual fulfillment. A brilliant psychological portrait, Demian is given new life in this translation, which together with James Franco’s personal and inspiring foreword will bring a new generation to Hesse’s widely influential coming-of-age novel.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.50(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Damion Searls has translated many classic twentieth-century authors, including Proust, Rilke, and Thomas Bernhard. His translation of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was a New York Times Notable Book and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Searls lives in Brooklyn.
Ralph Freedman is a professor emeritus of comparative literature at Princeton University and the author of an acclaimed biography of Hermann Hesse. He lives in Decatur, Georgia.
James Franco is an Oscar-nominated actor and director. His writing has appeared in Esquire, the Wall Street Journal, and McSweeney’s. Franco lives in New York.
Read an Excerpt
My friend Demian
I remember reading Demian for the first time. It was the beginning of summer, I had turned nineteen in April, and I was working at a café on the UCLA campus, selling deli sandwiches, microwaved pizza, cheap Mexican hash, and glistening Chinese. I had spent the previous school year studying English literature but had recently taken the plunge into the raging sea of film acting and was freshly making my way through the tide pools of acting school. I had not auditioned for the UCLA theater program and thus had been forced to take classes in the Valley, and just before the spring quarter at UCLA had ended I decided to devote myself full time to acting. My parents didn’t object, saying only that they would support me as long as I studied at the university, but if I wanted to be an artist I had to find my own way.
Working at the north campus eatery, I was serving the students who once had been my classmates. My boss was a graduate student with a shaved head except in two spots that he dyed red and gelled into six-inch horns. I’ll call him Bill. I remember liking Bill if only because he was closer to my age than any boss I’d ever had, but he was still a boss. I was working to support my dream (one of a few) to become a film actor, and my employer looked like the devil.
On my breaks I read plays by O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov, and anyone else who might help me understand my chosen profession. It turned out that the grinding aspect of the job was not Bill’s constant watch as I loaded meat and mustard on sandwiches or scooped chili rellenos from the tin, depending on the day of the week; it was the boredom. I know now that I learned much about responsibility, dedication, and service from that humble job, but back then I had dreams of grandeur. I had left school in order to become the best actor in the world, and here I was, back on campus serving the very people who had been inviting me to frat parties a few months prior. I seemed to have taken five steps backwards, and the fact that I had left a top-rated university to join an army of hopefuls trying to break into a famously competitive industry often seemed like a fool’s quest.
On the wall next to the pizza service section was a framed photo of an elderly Marlon Brando being led by a man in a suit and a football helmet through a throng of photographers and gawkers. I’m pretty sure it was taken around the time of Brando’s son’s murder trial, but it inspired me as I served the slop: Brando was the pinnacle of film acting, and his picture was a reminder of the great tradition I hoped to be a part of.
After a couple months I started reading Demian. I’m not sure if there was a connection, but one day, without warning, I hung up my apron and walked out the back, never to return. I had planned to work that day, so once taking my exit I didn’t know where to go. With Demian folded in my pocket, I headed into Westwood, full of the passion of what I had done. On the edge of campus I ran into one of my former classmates, a girl I once had flirted with, sunning herself on the grass. I told her what had happened, but it didn’t seem to register. I felt like I had taken another step away from a conformist life and another step toward artistic freedom, but, talking to her, I sounded to myself like I was an immature kid who had quit his job.
At a café I jumped back into Demian, and I felt like I was understood again. Emil Sinclair, the narrator, is also on a search. His vacillation between good and bad, between expected pursuits and his own artistic path, seemed to mirror mine. Like so many young people in the ninety years since its publication, I felt like Hermann Hesse was describing my own interior and exterior struggles. Sinclair had Demian to help guide him, but I had yet to find my artistic mentor. Instead I had the book.
Demian became my Demian, a voice I could listen to and contemplate as I tried to find my way from childhood to adulthood and into the world of art. Of course there were many turns in the road aheadI would get a job at McDonald’s, get work as an actor, grow to hate much of the work I did, expand my artistic horizons (Hesse became not just a writer but also a celebrated painter)but reading Demian was an important step in the direction of a life that resonated with my ideals.
What People are Saying About This
“[An] excellent new translation.” —The Times Literary Supplement
Reading Group Guide
His very name combines the forces of evil ("Sin") and the power of light ("clair"). As he moves slowly from innocent youth to knowing adulthood, Emil Sinclair-the hero and narrator of Hermann Hesse's novel Demian-moves perpetually between the temptations of the flesh and the promise of radical religious redemption. His first brush with evil comes at the hands of a wicked older boy, Franz Kromer, who assumes despotic control over Sinclair's life by threatening to divulge an unbearable secret. On the verge of despair, Sinclair is rescued by an aloof but charismatic schoolmate named Max Demian, whose sharp intelligence and revolutionary ideas about God and morality lure the younger boy into uncharted psychological territory. As their friendship deepens, Demian assumes an ambiguous role of both mentor and tempter, prompting Sinclair to question every value that he has heretofore accepted and gradually to reject the safe but stultifying world that Sinclair's parents have created for him. Sometimes concretely realistic, sometimes almost hallucinatory in its strangeness, Sinclair's journey to adulthood unfolds in astonishing fashion as he experiences the depths of guilt and bewilderment and the pinnacles of spiritual ecstasy. Yet just as Sinclair appears to be reaching a state of moral completeness and spiritual satisfaction, his country is thrown into a catastrophic war, from which nothing he has come to value is likely to emerge unscathed.
Along his winding path to maturity, Sinclair is shaped by a fascinating variety of friends and mentors: Beatrice, a radiant girl whom he views from afar and who comes to embody his holiest ideals; Alfons Beck, a dissolute young man who leads Sinclair down the path of corruption; Pistorius, a brilliant organist whose music and philosophic lessons mark a turning point in Sinclair's thoughts and feelings; and Demian's mother Eva, who appears to Sinclair as both a present-day Madonna and a primitive seductress. Their influences combine to lead Sinclair to a startling but seemingly inescapable conclusion: that the only true goal of life is self-exploration, and that every person must resolutely discover his or her own destiny, whether that pursuit turns him into a prophet or a madman, a poet or a criminal. The road may lead anywhere, so long as it takes the traveler forward.
Revolutionary in its philosophy, ruthless in its investigation of the human spirit, Demian has long been recognized as one of the great novels about moral education and mis-education, a unique chronicle of one person's trip on the winding, treacherous road toward maturity. Now, thanks to a bold but sensitive new translation by Damion Searls, readers can now view the world of Demian in an unprecedented light. Through Hesse's timeless classic, they can discover in Emil Sinclair, in Max Demian, and most importantly in themselves, the miracle and uniqueness of selfhood in the modern world.
ABOUT HERMANN HESSE
Born in Württemburg, Germany, in 1877, Hermann Hesse was twenty when he began a career of fiction writing that spanned nearly forty-five years. Renowned for his insights into human psychology and his advocacy of expansive self-exploration, Hesse remains one of the most frequently translated and most avidly read German writers of the twentieth century. His world-famous novels include Demian, Klingsor's Last Summer, Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, and The Glass Bead Game. In 1946, Hesse was honored with both the Goethe Prize (arguably Germany's most prestigious cultural prize) and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Hermann Hesse died in Switzerland in 1962.