©1957 Herman Hesse; (P)2009 BBC Audio
In my college years, Hermann Hesse was one author considered required reading by my peers. I read and reread all of his better known novels and found them all worthwhile. But of all of Hesse's work, it is Narcissus and Goldmund that moved me most deeply and it is the novel (of Hesse's) to which I have returned to most often.
Like all of Hesse's novels, it is about the the pursuit of the meaning of life, but here the writing is less self-conscious, simpler in some ways, but deeper in the exploring the range of human experience. It has drama, insight, poetic vision and covers a wide range of experiences. It is very Existential in some ways, but touches on the mystical in the arts with a more profound effect than the more "metaphysical" manner of the earlier novels.
This novel is about two medieval men with a very deep friendship but with very different temperaments. The meet in a monastery (after the death of Goldmund's mother). They appear to be complete opposites each seeks to bring meaning to their existence; Narcissus seeks peace and salvation (purity of mind) within a religious life in a monastery, while Goldmund is burning with the desire to experience life and throw himself into the world.
The story is about finding one's way and being true to one's inner nature. Narcissus lives a life of constraint but one that has purpose for him. Goldmund is unhappy in the monastery, and Narcissus tells him "be yourself, try to realize yourself" and encourages him to find his own way. The men separate to following their own paths. We follow the lives of both of these men, and in their contrasting experiences.
Goldmund then wanders the world in search of adventure, love and self-discovery . He has fantastic adventures, experiences the best and worst of humanity surrounded by the Black Plague; and in the mist of all these hardships, he finds meaning and beauty. After being profoundly touched by the beauty of wooden statue of the Madonna, the artist within himself awakens giving a new purpose and direction for his life. He seeks out the artist and becomes his apprentice. He develops his own skills, sacrificing the wild experiences and settling down to work (at least for the duration of the work) and he creates a sculpture of great merit.
Hesse writes powerfully and beautifully on the conflict between the Apollonian (understanding; form, order, restraint, conforming, the world of the intellect/mind) and the Dionysian (experience; passion, frivolity, lust, expression, the world of images/symbol/beauty). Hesse is able to bring out the conflict between flesh and spirit, emotion and control, ambition and modesty. This is a novel about the dilemma of life, and two possible paths that of spiritual pilgrims and that of artistic souls on the road of life. This was perfectly timed for me, in my early twenties, this book seems to express artistically and poignantly the central conflict of my life.
I own dozens of audiobooks, and none are better performed than this one. The narrator, Simon Vance, has the perfect voice, expression and pacing for such a meaningfull story. He varies the pitch and style of his speech to clearly portray each of the characters and expresses the difference between the thoughts and the words of the characters. He never over-acts nor does he ever rush the delivery. I've read the book several times, but in my listening to the audiobook I heard details that I'd never noticed before. As a result of the enjoyment of this performance, I've now purchased many other audiobooks narrated by Simon Vance, they are all well-read. Most highly recommended.
I frankly found this novel a bit tedious. It's quintessentially Germanic. Set rather vaguely in a pre-industrial stylized world of monks, craftsmen, blacksmiths, gypsy women, etc., it tells the story of the life of Goldmund. The life is fairly implausible. There are long, long, sections in which his mind and feelings and relationships are described in depth. The author's outlook, when it comes right down to it, is that the only thing that has real value in the world is aesthetic experience. THe deeper your soul, the deeper, and hence more valuable this will be. EVen when Goldmund is having sex with every girl he meets, this is still understand as essentially aesthetic--or as the foundation for something aesthetic. I think if I'd read this when I was 19 I'd have been very impressed; but not being 19, I found it often tiresome. The narration is very good.
One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
Published in 1930, this is Herman Hesse's brilliant story of two friends in medieval Germany. Largely metaphorical, this has the feel of a cautionary fairy tale with no true compass as to geography or time. The story begins when Goldmund, a student, and Narcissus, a teacher only a few years older, become friends at a cloister school. At first, Goldmund earnestly focuses on his studies, but then a few fellow students invite him to go off campus, where he's seduced by a young Gypsy girl. From that day forward, his mind never wanders far from thoughts of women, their sheer beauty and the pleasures of the senses.
He leaves and on his journeys he has numerous affairs with women of all ages, statuses and sizes (similar to Wilt Chamberlain in legion and legend). All women find him irresistible. He falls for the first young lady to say no, loses her to the serpent of lust for her younger, prettier sister, and then travels far and wide. He settles to become a sculptor for several years, able to brilliantly capture the beauty he has seen. He becomes restless, continues his travels and runs into the unmitigated ugliness of the Black Plague. There's much more, but I'll add no more so I don't spoil the story, except to say that when both he and Narcissus, now an abbot, are much older, they visit and converse at length with each other.
The novel provides perhaps the most vivid contrast I've read between art, the beauty of the skin and sensual pleasures, on the one hand, and beauty of the spirit, stability, thinking and structure on the other.
A storyteller, reader, and writer (in that chronological order) since childhood, Audible helps me to bring all 3 together.
Superb, beautifully written (and well-translated!) and splendidly read by Simon Vance. I'd read most of Hesse's novels, but always avoided this one for some reason, thinking it was a minor work. Not at all! It's one of the greatest novels by a great writer. Spiritually and psychologically profound, it's mostly about Goldmund, one of the most engaging characters I've ever encountered. The large amount of introspective material is not boring for a second, and is seamlessly woven into the action and descriptions. One of the best Audible experiences I've had.
Audio and print are two different ways of experiencing a book. I was glad that the translation used was the one I had read as it is more fluid and true to the essence of the message than another I have seen that felt harsher.
I loved how he portrayed Narcissis.
Immortal story of the interplay of the senses and the mind and the heart in each.
Hesse once again explores with much depth the values, and inner forces that drives man. Religion, sex, behavior, friendship... Hesse's books are a guide to the appreciation of life.
Nevertheless, it was a good morality play well written. Simon Vance made this book a joy to listen to. Right now it's a bargain! My suggestion for a good weekend of listening: combine this book with Lady Chatterly's Lover. Both are excellent books with messages applicable to today's societies; i.e., multicultural appeal.
"Compelling listening, beautiful in parts"
Impressive novel written in the '30s. Compelling listening with nuanced reference to sexual denial and abuse, trust, and power in relationships. Disturbing in many dimensions, not always satisfying, but nevertheless compulsive listening especially as the naive Goldmund leaves the Cloister only to engage in compulsive sexual and other exploits, at times exploitative... These are counterposed with the introspective ascetic life of his friend Narcissus and the inward looking world he inhabits.
"Uninspiring and tediously laboured"
It is stuck uncomfortably between a grounding in reality and allegory. The characters are neither realistic nor likeable.
No, I am a fan of Hesse and have enjoyed many of his books. I wrote a detailed review on Amazon on why this one failed for me.
The first quarter is quite good. It declines from then on
The themes addressing the meaning of life, spirituality and rejection of the material.
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