Despite the build-up to a debate tournament this weekend, I managed to knock out another book today. For number sixty-five I returned to an old friend, Hermann Hesse. Hesse’s 1910 novel Gertrude is presented as the memoir of famous composer Kuhn. Kuhn recounts his early discovery of his musical gift and his earliest experiences with love. A sledding accident leaves him with a crippled leg, which he believes will confine him to a life of loneliness. His music writing improves with the tumult of emotions surrounding his leg driving it and Kuhn is befriended by a well-known and robust opera singer, Heinrich Muoth. Muoth is a tormented and passionate soul, gifted but undisciplined. He encourages Kuhn’s artistic efforts and introduces him to several notable figures in the city’s music scene. As a result, Kuhn is invited to perform one of his works at the house of Herr Imthor. Kuhn is captivated by Imthor’s beautiful and reserved daughter, Gertrude. Gertrude befriends Kuhn and serves as his confidant in his first attempts at writing an opera. Kuhn falls deeply in love with Gertrude but is afraid of rejection or arousing pity on account of his handicap. As the opera progresses, he also seeks Muoth’s assistance. Through their mutual work on the opera, Muoth and Gertrude meet. Gertrude falls in love with Muoth despite their extreme unsuitability for one another. Kuhn is devastated as Gertrude and Muoth are engaged. He channels his emotional turmoil into the growing opera, with the passionate Kuhn and the level-headed Gertrude serving as dual inspirations. Upon the completion of the opera, Muoth presents it to the conductor of the Munich Opera House, who agrees to stage it. The opera is a huge success, making Kuhn a celebrity. Meanwhile, the marriage of Gertrude and Muoth is unraveling. The constant struggle to adapt themselves to each other proves too much for them. Gertrude returns home for rest away from Muoth, who spirals into depression. Muoth invites Kuhn to visit for one last night of fraternity. After a pleasant night of reminiscing, Kuhn retires to bed. He is awakened by Muoth’s panicked servant. The opera singer committed suicide in the night. Kuhn concludes his narrative with a reflection on the conflicting spirits present in man and the lost innocence of blissful youth.
I will admit that this book did not impress me at first. I was restless in my reading and couldn’t seem to engage with the text. I forced myself through this stage and ultimately found the book to be excellent. The influence of Nietzsche’s concept of the conflicting Apollonian and Dionysian spirits is readily apparent in Gertrude. I have always had a bit of Germanophilia in my literary and philosophical tastes, and the union of Hesse and Nietzsche is irresistible. Hesse writes with an honesty and sincerity that survives the translation process intact. He is a master of presenting emotions in a way that is instantly relatable to his readers. There are some authors that just seem to connect with a particular individual, and Hesse is one of them for me. His writing often seems like my thoughts on the page. That feeling of kinship is a large part of his appeal to me, and Gertrude was no exception.
The Current Count:
65 Read, 35 To Go