Högskolans skriftserier

Outsiders and Others

Queer Friendships in Novels by Hermann Hesse

Omslag för Outsiders and Others: Queer Friendships in Novels by Hermann Hesse

von Seth, Oscar

This dissertation explores how characters who embody outsiderness and/or otherness intersect with and connote queerness—such as, for instance, homoeroticism and nonconformism—in the novels Peter Camenzind (1904) and Der Steppenwolf (1927) by German-language author Hermann Hesse (1877–1962).

In most of Hesse’s novels, the narrative revolves around a male protagonist who is characterized as an outsider. This outsider comes to know himself through friendship with another man. The friend is desired by the outsider and tends to embody some form of otherness; he is almost always portrayed as different—rebellious, beautiful, enigmatic, and inspiring—and he comes to play a key role in the protagonist’s personal development and journey through life. The hypothesis in this study is that the friendships formed by these characters are queer friendships, that is, that they challenge heteronormative conceptions of relationality, sexuality, and desire.

The study’s main theoretical apparatus encompasses a selection of queer theories and concepts, including (among others) José Esteban Muñoz’s conceptualization of the horizon as a signifier for “queer utopia” as well as Heather Love’s thoughts on “backwardness.” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s early queer-theoretical work on male homosocial desire and Jack Halberstam’s recent theorizing about sexuality and wildness are also drawn on.

The study begins with an overview chapter on Hesse’s authorship that provides historical context followed by two parts (one on Peter Camenzind and one on Der Steppenwolf) with three analytical chapters each. The overview chapter revolves around certain norm-challenging aspects of Hesse’s time and reception. Hesse was active alongside the German homosexual emancipation movement and emerging field of sexology in the early 1900s, and his work was embraced by contemporary countercultures such as the German Wandervogel groups and by later anti-conformist movements like beatniks and hippies. Despite these connections, however, Hesse’s novels have rarely been interpreted with an ambition to emphasize queerness.

The common thread in the study’s six analytical chapters is depictions of queer friendship. In each chapter, one character is in primary focus. This character’s portrayal as an outsider or Other (or both) is examined. In some instances, the protagonist is the key person of interest; at other times, the protagonist’s friend is in focus.

Chapter one, “Romantic Friendship in a Bildungsroman,” centers on Peter, the outsider-protagonist in Peter Camenzind, and his homosocial bond with the character Richard. The chapter examines how defining traits of the Bildungsroman (novel of formation) and the concept of romantic friendship intersect in the novel. Chapter two, “Without Leaving Children Behind,” explores heterosexual ambivalence, which Peter conveys in his interactions with women, which is interpreted as a manifestation of queerness. While the chapter concerns a number of female characters, Peter’s friend Elisabeth is the key character. Chapter three, “Facing the Other,” focuses on Peter’s friend Boppi. The otherness ascribed to Boppi through his disability is examined, as well as the ways that disability works as a catalyst for expressions of “queer/crip kinship” in the text.

Chapter four, “Tracing the Wolf,” examines a key expression of otherness in Der Steppenwolf, namely, the animality of its protagonist, the wolf-man (and outsider) Harry Haller. This chapter is different from the others in that it does not revolve around queer friendship per se. Rather, it emphasizes the antithesis of friendship, that is, a bond built on animosity, a major characteristic in the relationship between the human part and the wolf part of the protagonist. Chapter five, “The Function of Hermine,” explores the fluid gender expressions and queer characteristics of Harry’s friend Hermine. Hermine is a character whose otherness mirrors the protagonist’s dual nature. Chapter six, “Queer Sounds, Times, and Places,” puts the spotlight on Pablo, another of Harry’s friends, and examines how the novel’s portrayal of sounds (such as jazz music), times (the conflict between the old and the new), and places (like the dance floor) connote queerness in various ways.

Ultimately, this dissertation demonstrates that Hermann Hesse’s stories include queerness both in the shape of nonconformity in the characters, and in norm-challenging sexuality and the prevalence of homoeroticism. In addition, Peter Camenzind and Der Steppenwolf convey that queerness is essential to their protagonists’ longings to become whole and in the ways that the novels portray completeness.

Huddinge : Södertörns högskola, 2022. 291 sidor.

ISBN 978-91-89504-00-4

Serie: Södertörn Doctoral Dissertations, 1652-7399 ; 202

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