NARCISSUS AND GOLDMUND, A NOVEL BY HERMANN HESSE (BOOK REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION)

 In this post, I shall review  Narcissus and Goldmund, a novel by Herman Hesse. Published in 1930, is a critically acclaimed novel. In English, it's also published under the title Death and the Lover. Like many of Hesse's works, Narcissus and Goldmund focuses on the protagonist's struggle to find himself. This novel is considered a literary classic and rightfully so. I've heard many people recommending novel and saying how it moved them.  I read it years ago, but it is still very close to my heart. It's definitely a novel that is worth the hype. No wonder it remains a very popular read. If you want to know why I consider Narcissus and Goldmund  to be a work of art, read on. 



SUSTAINABLE FASHION FILES- HOW I WORE IT BEFORE?

PINK SWEATER- IT'S NEW ACTUALLY, I got it from a mall (Terranova  if I remember well), but I already got a lot of wear from it. 
BLACK BOOTS- NEW (MARCO TOZZI) and a worthy successor to my legendary biker boots. 
BURGUNDY BAG- 53 WAYS TO WEAR A PAIR OF BROWN HEELED SANDALS (modaodaradosti.blogspot.com) This post also shows a dozen ways to wear this bag. 



“All existence seemed to be based on duality, on contrast. Either one was a man or one was a woman, either a wanderer or sedentary burgher, either a thinking person or a feeling person-no one could breathe in at the same time as he breathed out, be a man as well as a woman, experience freedom as well as order, combine instinct and mind. One always had to pay for one with the loss of the other, and one thing was always just as important and desirable as the other.”



This beautifully written philosophical novel, that like most of Hesse’s work explores the theme of individual search for self-realization, was a genuine pleasure to read as well as to reflect on later on. It is one of those books that stays with you. I read it ages ago, but I can remember it without making any mental effort whatsoever. 


It stayed in my heart and in my mind. The language used is fairly simple, but beautiful nevertheless and powerful in the messages it delivers. The story is quite easy to follow, which is logical because it is focused mostly on one character. As the novel has to do with his own personal search for beauty, it could be said that the story of his life (and all the events that take place) isn’t the focus of this novel. 


I mean there is a story to follow, as philosophical as it may be, this novel is never a mere collection of meditations and essays. There is the main character whose life story we shall learn and there are also other characters that matter, that aren’t only symbols, yet it is clear from the start that the story of the protagonist’s life isn’t the only thing that matters in this novel, that there is some deeper message to be found.



Narcissus and Goldmund basically focuses on a life story of a young man, Goldmund who leaves a monastery and wanders Germany, while his friend and teacher Narcissus stays in the monastery. Like the protagonist of Siddhartha, Goldmund is a gifted young man and his name (means golden mouth in German) is symbolic of that. Similarly to Siddhartha, Goldmund decides to leave his life. The novel follows Goldmund. who after leaving a Catholic monastery, searches for self-realization. 

“He lived in this dream world more than in the real one. The real world: classroom, courtyard, library, dormitory, and chapel were only the surface, a quivering film over the dream-filled super-real world of images.”

Narcissus,  who is like Goldmund, quite gifted and intelligent, is another important character. Their friendship mirrors that of Siddhartha and Govinda. Narcissus is a young teacher at the start of the novel, and when he meets Goldmund, they become friends. The two were close in age and developed a relationship of respect. You could say that Goldmund admires Narcissus, and Narcissus loves his young student. When Goldmund decides to leave the monastery and renounce the monk life, their fates are separated. However, this is not the end of their beautiful friendship. 

“...to you, differences are quite unimportant; to me, they are what matters most. I am a scholar by nature; science is my vocation. And science is, to quote your words, nothing but the 'determination to establish differences.' Its essence couldn't be defined more accurately. For us, the men of science, nothing is as important as the establishment of differences; science is the art of differentiation. Discovering in every man that which distinguishes him from others is to know him.”


“Obedient to no man, dependent only on weather and season, without a goal before them or a roof above them, owning nothing, open to every whim of fate, the homeless wanderers lead their childlike, brave, shabby existence. They are the sons of Adam, who was driven out of Paradise; the brothers of the animals, of innocence. Out of heaven's hand they accept what is given them from moment to moment: sun, rain, fog, snow, warmth, cold, comfort, and hardship; time does not exist for them and neither does history, or ambition, or that bizarre idol called progress and evolution, in which houseowners believe so desperately. A wayfarer may be delicate or crude, artful or awkward, brave or cowardly—he is always a child at heart, living in the first day of creation, before the beginning of the history of the world, his life always guided by a few simple instincts and needs. He may be intelligent or stupid; he may be deeply aware of the fleeting fragility of all living things, of how pettily and fearfully each living creature carries its bit of warm blood through the glaciers of cosmic space, or he may merely follow the commands of his poor stomach with childlike greed—he is always the opponent, the deadly enemy of the established proprietor, who hates him, despises him, or fears him, because he does not wish to be reminded that all existence is transitory, that life is constantly wilting, that merciless icy death fills the cosmos all around.”  Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund






This novel is less focused on events as than on mediating about the meaning of live itself. It is a novel about spiritualty? That depends on how you see it, how you define spirituality, this is not a book that will feed you any dogma or give you a set of rules to live by. 

Narcissus and Goldmund is a novel that doesn’t show you the meaning of life, for such a thing is hardly possible, but what does this novel do is show you what such a search looks like. It is about searching for meaning. We are all trying to make sense of this world we live it. We do it in our own different ways, for we’re all endowed with different temperaments and characters. Hence, there are no easy answers. 


“One thing, however, did become clear to him—why so many perfect works of art did not please him at all, why they were almost hateful and boring to him, in spite of a certain undeniable beauty. Workshops, churches, and palaces were full of these fatal works of art; he had even helped with a few himself. They were deeply disappointing because they aroused the desire for the highest and did not fulfill it. They lacked the most essential thing—mystery. That was what dreams and truly great works of art had in common: mystery.” Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

I see this book as a meditation on the beauty and the power of Art. Any flaws that appear in the narrative therefore I find to be irrelevant. I think that I didn’t even experience Narcissus and Goldmund as a typical narrative. It's more philosophical in nature, more a novel of ideas, more like reading a religious text than anything else, and that is the beauty of it... or at least that is what I have found in it. What a profound novel it really is!

I loved the contrast between the two main characters, Narcissus and Goldmund and the true friendship that exists between them. That was my favourite part of the book and I think it adds a lot of depth to the writing as a whole. The writer managed to create a wonderful character to contrast our protagonist. 

We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other's opposite and complement.”  Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

The friendship Hesse described was very touching, but never sentimental. It is true emotional, pure and beautiful. I believe that such a friendship is a very rare thing. Perhaps what I liked most about this book is how it acknowledges the fundamental differences that can and often do exist between two people. So much more refreshing (and closer to truth) than saying we're all alike! I mean obviously all of our humans are alike in many things, but we are also unique in many ways. 

Just observing that delicate friendships that oddly sometimes exist between the people who see the world in completely different way somehow felt enriching. It made me rethink great deal of things. Not all differences are differences and not all the similarities, one could say. However, one might mean different things by saying this. The meaning of words is harder to pin down than we think. We're so used to thinking in a certain way, most of us anyway, that we fail to understand that there is always something more, something behind our words that we cannot explain. This novel did a wonderful job of capturing that and I love it for it.

Take for example this friendship between Narcissus and Goldmund. From a worldly perspective, these two man have nothing in common and yet on some higher level they feel a deep connection, the kind that most people never experience and yet the similarity between them is as important as the differences are. 


These two are connected by the holy bond of love and understanding. This friendship adds another dimension to their character. In addition, this difference between the thinker and the artist, allows the writer to develop some really amazing reflections upon the very nature of art.

“We fear death, we shudder at life's instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something last longer than we do.” Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund




If I would care to, I could find a number of illogical things in this novel (unrealistic stories or plot developments, characterization of minor characters etc), small imperfections and weak points. However, I don’t want to. There is a reason why I don’t feel like doing it. The point is that this novel is a great piece of writing. I don't care to even notice those small flaws and the reason why I don't care to do so is because this is a work of art. Being what it is, in one way I really do feel that is perfect as it is.



 This is a novel in the full sense of the world, one that has a protagonist, story and characters, but it is also very philosophical and spiritual in nature. It is perfect as it is and it would be wrong to focus on any small imperfections. You don't dissect a work of art. This is a work of art, of that I’m absolutely sure of it.

“O how incomprehensible everything was, and actually sad, although it was also beautiful. One knew nothing. One lived and ran about the earth and rode through forests, and certain things looked so challenging and promising and nostalgic: a star in the evening, a blue harebell, a reed-green pond, the eye of a person or a cow. And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all, but then it passed, nothing happened, the riddle remained unsolved, the secret spell unbroken, and in the end one grew old and looked cunning . . . or wise . . . and still one knew nothing perhaps, was still waiting and listening.”

In my previous post, I reviewed Siddhartha, another novel written by Herman Hesse.  Check out that review if you want to read more about Herman Hesse.

A photograph from my archives, with another of Hesse's works.

MORE READING RECOMMENDATIONS AND BOOK REVIEWS 


Thank you for reading and visiting!

Comments

  1. Gracias por la reseña. Ese libro no lo he leído. Tomó nota- Estas muy linda. Te mando un beso.

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  2. Oh, it does look like an enlightening book especially with dreams and reality of youth. And of course, a great friendship, as well. Lovely vibrant colors of winter in the photos, too. You are very inspiring. Thanks for the wonderful review. I will keep this one in mind. All the best to a wonderful March that will soon be here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. The friendship described in this book is wonderful.

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  3. So happy you did this review. What an interesting time this story took place in. It is always great to see what this author was feeling when he wrote this one. Hmmmm...maybe this is a true bromance..(✿◡‿◡) Love the photos and of course, seeing the signs of springs, as well. You are so inspiring!

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  4. I do remember reading this book many years ago and loving it.Thank you for reminding me of its existence! xxx

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  5. This is a fantastic Book, Hermann Hesse was great Author.

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  6. I think I know of this book by the Death and the Lover title. It sounds contemplative and compelling. I would enjoy this as I prefer to read books that give me something to reflect upon lately.

    ReplyDelete

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All your comments mean a lot to me, even the criticism. Naravno da mi puno znači što ste uzeli vrijeme da nešto napišete, pa makar to bila i kritika. Per me le vostre parole sono sempre preziose anche quando si tratta di critiche.

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