Tag Archives: narcissus and goldmund

82. Narziss and Goldmund, Hermann Hesse (1930)

This was another big book in my early 20s. Readers of my age will remember that Penguin Modern Classics series with the pale green spines and fantastic covers, which seemed to form a parallel canon to the stuff we were taught at school and university. Arcane, slightly queer novels like this opened up an exciting new world to those of us raised on Dickens and Austen – and reading Hesse in London in the early 80s was very much in keeping with the vogue for all things European, especially German. Narziss and Goldmund is set in the Middle Ages and concerns two monks, one a wandering pleasure-seeker, the other an intellectual recluse, and in the course of various adventures Hesse contemplates the pros and cons of those different approaches to life. There’s a lot of sex, some excellent Black Death stuff and (I thought at the time) a sort of spiritual argument for homosexuality running through it. I seem to remember thinking, at the age of 21, that the contemplative, Apollonian life was the one for me, but this was largely because I was a shy little virgin who hadn’t yet had the chance to go Dionysian. I have a distinct memory of sitting in a gay pub reading this book, desperately hoping that a nice gentleman would buy me a drink. Possibly not the most successful cruising strategy of all time.


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