No sooner had I finished the wonderful Narcissus and Goldmund than I set about tackling Peter Camenzind, one of Hesse's earlier efforts. As with the other Hesse works with which I have made acquaintance, completing it did not take long, as one is drawn inexorably into the ebb and flow of the storyline, as well as the power of the subject matter.
Peter Camenzind deals with what were to become the familiar Hesse themes and concerns such as spirituality, personal discovery and humanity, and therefore lays the groundwork for his later novels. However, this one has some distinctive characteristics of its own, and I found it more straightforward and "stripped down" than some of the others.
The plot concerns the experiences of the eponymous character, from his formative years in his home region, through his education and subsequent intellectual and artistic exploits and endeavours, and on to his return.
The young Camenzind is very much captivated by the beauty of nature, but has a curious relationship with some family members. During and after his education he finds his interactions with cultivated society largely frustrating and unfulfilling, and instead finds solace and meaning in other circles .
As the story moves forward, Camenzind comes to appreciate the "one-ness" of humanity and nature, and this appears to be achieved through a series of "re-births", during which he rediscovers the charm and honesty of the simple things in life, which often stand in stark contrast to the superficiality and insincerity which he has encountered on his various travels.
The closing chapters see Camenzind continue his voyage of discovery, and his relationship with a crippled man sees this process enter a new dimension. He then returns to his home town.
This novel also takes a frank and unusual look at the subject of death, and perhaps aims to challenge some of the established views which were prevalent around the time of its publication.
From my point of view Peter Camenzind, like other Hesse novels, looks at life as an inner struggle, but also as a series of cycles, with a periodic journey back to "mother nature" desirable for nourishment and rejuvenation. Above all, it celebrates all life for its richness, dignity and beauty.