“The Abyss” is the name of the journal in which the young would-be poet Karl Eugen Eiselein is publishing his works – and the name seems to be program since this journal is publishing the works without paying royalties and only after Eiselein is renewing the yearly subscription. It is Eiselein’s shopkeeper parents who pay for their only son’s education and his expensive fancies…and who have to throw more and more money into this abyss called “poetry”.
In a moment when he starts to doubt his vocation, young Eiselein is writing letters to the two symbolist poets he admires – and they answer, one of them in the “symbolist” style of his poems, the other one surprisingly bold and direct: he is asking for a loan from the young admirer (and reducing Eiselein’s illusions regarding the life style of a poet considerably by telling him that his object of admiration is surviving rarely by doing some hackwork as – a sports journalist!).
Hesse’s early story is balancing between the two possible outcomes: tragedy and comedy. His ironic description of the life of the Eiselein family with a benevolent but weak father and a strong and more realistic mother who shifts the “power balance” in the family to her favor as the story enfolds, his acerbic remarks about the literary fashions of the time (his particular targets are Oscar Wilde and the not explicitly mentioned but easily recognizable Stefan George) and his sympathy with (and ridicule for) the hero who has a lot in common with the young Hesse himself make this 60-pages story still a nice read for an evening.
The story was originally published 1903 in the “Neue Zuercher Zeitung” and later included in Hesse’s collection of stories “Neighbors” (1908). Suhrkamp published the story a few years ago as a separate book with the reproduction of a neat Hesse watercolor on the title. It seems that there is so far no English translation. It would be worth it. The story is one of Hesse’s best early works.
Hermann Hesse: Karl Eugen Eiselein, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1985
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