In the early 1920s, the German novelist and poet Hermann Hesse set himself a deadline. On 2 July 1927, his 50th birthday, he would decide whether to kill himself. He had tried before. At the age of 15 he had bought a rusty revolver and left a suicide note for his parents. Now, faced with the collapse of his second marriage, plagued by enervating headaches, arthritic joints that hurt every time he hit the typewriter keys and recurrent bouts of deep depression, the bestselling author decided to end his life. As his biographer Gunnar Decker observes: ‘To have the prospect of death clearly in sight, and to admit the possibility of suicide, was liberating for him.’ Out of this period of profound angst came the novel Steppenwolf, in which Harry Haller experiences the same identity crisis, while trapped in a downward spiral of self-loathing and destructiveness. As Decker says: ‘This existence on the lip of the abyss, this life on the razor’s edge, constantly aware of death as an option – that was Hesse’s contribution to the theme of the intellectual.’

[bij het lezen van Hesse, The wanderer and his shadow]