Hermann Hesse: Klingsors letzter Sommer – Klingsor’s Last Summer (1919)

Klingsor's Last Summer

The novella Klingsors letzter Sommer  or Klingsor’s Last Summer is another of Hesse’s autobiographical books. Like Veraguth in Rosshalde, Klingsor is a painter. As you may know, Hesse painted as well, so the choice of painters as alter egos makes a lot of sense. While both books are inspired by Hesse’s life and both have painters as protagonists, they don’t have much else in common. Veraguth was a realist painter, Klingsor is an expressionist. Veraguth is trapped in a loveless marriage, Klingsor is a free-spirit living an excessive life on the brink of disaster.

The way Hesse chose to write his novella is interesting because he seems to paint with words, tries to capture Klingsor’s expressionist work, and uses some of the most interesting and nuanced names for color. Here too, I liked the descriptions. The story is set in the Ticino region, the Italian part of Switzerland. It has one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Hesse barely disguises the real names. He calls Lugano – Laguno, Sorengo – Barengo  . . . As much as I liked Rosshalde, I really didn’t care for this novella. I hated the main character too much.

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Klingsor is an exalted, self-centred, alcoholic, womanizer and possibly bi-polar. The passages in which he is frenetic and exalted, tries to have sex with every woman he meets, drinks one bottle of wine after the other, and sees death, decay and destruction everywhere, were hard to take. I’ve met a few people in my life who had traits of Klingsor. I really have a hard time coping with this type of energy, even on paper. That said, I might not do this book any justice.

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Nonetheless, I’m glad I read it because it’s interesting to see, how the changes in Hesse’s life are reflected in this story. When he wrote this, he’d left his wife and three kids. Subsequently, sis wife had to be sent to a psychiatric hospital and Hesse too saw a therapist. Even his painting seems to have changed and he moved away from realistic depictions, to more expressive forms.

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What I truly enjoyed is the way he captures expressionist paintings. His choice of words is so strong and powerful; we can see distorted landscapes, painted in striking colors. Towards the end, he paints a self-portrait that really comes to life.

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Klingsor’s letzter Sommer is a short book. It’s essential reading for anyone who loves Hesse but not a good starting point for those who haven’t read him yet.

The biographical elements I’ve mentioned here and in my earlier post are taken from Heimo Schwilk’s Hesse biography. It came out in 2012. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been translated yet.

Hesse bio

If you’d like to read another post on Klingor’s Last Summer – here’s Pat’s (South of Paris Books) review.

32 thoughts on “Hermann Hesse: Klingsors letzter Sommer – Klingsor’s Last Summer (1919)

  1. We were just commenting yesterday that many of Hesse’s characters are self-absorbed to an almost ridiculous extent. Self-development taken to the extreme perhaps? But the Ticino setting sounds lovely – I have friends who have a house there and spent Easter once with them, completely fell in love with the place.

    • Check out Pat’s review. She really likes it and added lots of quotes (she read it in English). I’ve been toying with the idea to move to the South of Switzerland for years.

  2. I think I sense a consistency developing in Hesse’s protagonists…. I *love* the paintings you share and I don’t think I’d actually taken on board that he painted too. I shall no doubt have to track down a biography!

  3. I didn’t know Hesse painted! I’m fascinated by those who can shift from one medium to another, and how one creative form of expression can inform another. Your comment about his painting with words sold me, along with the descriptions of the landscape – I love that area of Switzerland. I’ll have to get hold of a copy of this, even though I suspect that Klingsor may at times evoke some rage.😉

  4. Great commentary on this book Caroline.

    This is another Hesse work that I have not read. It seems to contain the common Hesse theme of analyzing and digging into varying art forms.

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline. Loved the watercolours you have posted too. I didn’t know that Hesse painted too. It was interesting to read your comparison of the protagonists from the two novels. I don’t know what it is about about artists leaving their wives and children and going to paint. One part of my mind keeps asking on why they got married in the first place if they didn’t enjoy having a family around and they wanted to pursue their art? I didn’t know that Hesse had abandoned his family. I remember reading a Somerset Maugham novel called ‘The Moon and Six Pence’ in which the main character is an artist who leaves his wife and kids. I remember reading somewhere that it was based on the artist Paul Gauguin’s life. Anyways, wonderful review. I learnt many new things from it. It looks like the Italian part of Switzerland is very beautiful from your description.

    • Thanks, Vishy.
      I always wonder the same. Why did they get married in the first place? Yes, he abandoned his family and that’s why his wife, apparently, had to be sent to a psychaitric hospital.I guess, there’s more to it.
      He lived in the Italian part of Switzerland, which is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

      • It is sad what happened to his wife. In an era in which it was hard for a single woman to manage on her own – with limited job prospects and with the social stigma attached to the situation – it must have been extremely hard for her.

        Well, now Italian Switzerland is a beautiful place that I want to add to my ‘Places to be seen’ list and hopefully visit one of these years🙂

        • Sometimes I think some things must have been better but certainly not for women.
          I hope you get to see that part of Switzerland. Maybe you’ve seen the James Bond movie Casino Royale. That is set, in parts, especially the end, in that part of Switzerland.

  6. I read this story today; I quite liked it but it was a bit rambling. I liked the last line of the chapter titled The Day at Kareno: ‘Beloved life, I greet you! I greet you, beloved death!’

    My Picador copy also has the stories A Child’s Heart and Klein and Wagner – have you read either?

    I’m intrigued about Li Po and Tu Fu now as well….

  7. I didn’t know Hesse was a painter, but it makes a lot of sense given your commentary on the book. I really like the way you’ve expressed it, almost as if Hesse is painting pictures with his prose – that’s lovely. Thanks for co-hosting this event with Karen. I never knew much about Hesse’s work before this week.

  8. Pingback: Hermann Hesse Reading Week Wrap Up | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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