Hermann Hesse

The Steppenwolf

Translation by Stephen H. Moore

© 2003 Stephen H. Moore (Moore Consulting/SHMOORECOMP)

All rights reserved

 

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Publisher’s Preface

This book contains the notes left to us by the man, whom we called the “Steppenwolf,” an expression he himself used on several occasions.  Whether this manuscript requires an introductory preface remains to be decided; but at any rate, it is a need for me to add some pages to those of the Steppenwolf, on which I will try to note my memories of him.  It is only a little, which I know about him; specifically his entire history and future have remained unknown to me.  Still, I have a strong and, in spite of everything, sympathetic impression of his personality.

The Steppenwolf was a man approaching the age of fifty,  who called at the house of my aunt one day several years ago and sought a furnished room.  He rented the attic in the top floor and the small bedroom next to it, came after a few days with two suitcases and a large book trunk and lived with us for nine or ten months.  He lived very quietly and kept to himself and, had the neighborly location of our bedrooms not caused several accidental meetings in the stairwell and corridor, we would have not gotten to know each other at all, because this man was not social, he was to a high degree, one I had never before observed in anyone before, unsocial.  He really was,  as he occasionally called himself, a Steppenwolf, a strange, wild and also shy, in fact very shy creature, from a different world than mine.  The degree to which he isolated himself because of his situation and fate, and to which degree he recognized this isolation as his fate, I first discovered in the notes he left behind, though I did get to know him to some extent by the many small encounters and talks and I found the picture of him I gained from his notes to be fundamentally in agreement with the much fainter and sketchier image which resulted from our personal acquaintanceship.

Coincidentally, I was there at the moment when the Steppenwolf first entered my aunt’s house and rented the room.  He came at noon time, the dishes still on the table, and I still had another half hour of free time before I had to return to the office.  I have never forgotten the strange and very ambivalent impression he made on me the first time.  He entered through the glass door, where he had previously rung the bell and my aunt asked him in the half dark hall what he wanted.  He however, the Steppenwolf, had extended his sharp, short-haired head up, sniffed around himself with his nervous nose and said, before he answered or gave his name “Oh, it smells good here.”  He smiled then and my dear aunt smiled as well, but I found this greeting peculiar and had something against him.

 “Yes, well,” he said, “I’m here about the room you have for rent.” 

It was only later, when the three of us climbed up the stairs to the top floor, that I could see the man more closely.  He was not very large, but he had the gait and the posture of a large person, wore a comfortable, modern winter coat and was otherwise decently but carelessly dressed, clean shaven with very short hair, which flickered a little grey here and there.  His gait did not appeal to me at all initially, he had something tired and indecisive about him, which did not fit his sharp, intense profile or the tone and temperament of his speech.  Only later did I notice and determine that he was ill and that walking made him tired.  With a peculiar smile, which I found unpleasant at the time, he observed the steps, the walls, the windows and the tall cabinets in the stairwell, which all seemed to please him but at the same time appeared to strike him as ridiculous.  Overall the man made the impression that he came to us from a strange world, maybe from some overseas country, and found everything here pretty, but unusual.  He was, and I cannot say it any other way, polite, even friendly and was completely in agreement with the house, the room, the amount of the rent, breakfast and everything, but still it seemed to me that there was a strange and unhealthy, even hostile atmosphere around him.  He rented the room and the small bedroom, listened as he was told about the heating, water, service and house rules, listened to everything in an attentive and friendly way, agreed with everything, even offered to pay for the rent in advance and still he seemed to not be in agreement with it all, seemed to find his own behavior strange and not to be taken seriously, as if it were weird and new, renting a room and speaking German with people while he was actually and internally involved with completely different matters.  That was pretty much my impression, and it would not have been a good one, if it had not been crossed out and corrected by all manner of small traits.  Above all, it was the man’s face, which pleased me from the start.  Despite every expression of strangeness, it pleased me.  It was perhaps a somewhat unusual and even sad face, but alert and very thoughtful, worked through and spiritual.  And then I accepted that his way of politeness and friendliness, although it seemed to make him tired, was completely without arrogance and that it contained something almost touching or imploring, for which I later found an explanation, but which initially made me accept him to an extent.  Before the viewing of both rooms and the other negotiations were ended, my lunch time was over and I had to return to my store.  I bode farewell and entrusted him to my aunt.  When I returned that evening,  she told me that the stranger had rented and would move in during the next few days.  He only asked that we not report his arrival to the police, because the formalities and standing around in police offices was unbearable for him, a sickly man.  I still remember exactly how that disconcerted me then and how I warned my aunt about agreeing to this stipulation.  This shyness of the police appeared to me to fit in exactly with the unfamiliar and strange qualities the man had about him, so as not to appear suspicious.