These life stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as images, voices and names of people now deceased. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant support services on our support page.

Nobel prize winning German novelist, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), was in an institution as a teenager. 

Hermann Hesse was born into a deeply religious family in Calw, a small town in the south of Germany. A rebellious child, Hermann’s father was already contemplating sending him “to an institution or to be raised by another family” before he turned twelve years old. When Hermann was fourteen, he was despatched to a boarding school, Maulbronn Monastery.

Maulbronn Monastery was an elite boarding school requiring Hermann to pass a rigorous test before he was accepted there in 1891. In 1892, Hermann ran away from Maulbronn. He was only absent for a day but his absence was reported to his parents and…  

 …his mother’s response to the news of his disappearance was to hope that he was dead: “I was very relieved when I finally got the feeling…that he was in God’s merciful hands,” she wrote in her diary (Kirsch). 

The school’s response was to expel the child, and his parents then had him committed to a mental asylum. 

Facing the prospect of indefinite, possibly lifelong incarceration, he bombarded his parents with heartbreaking letters: “I loathe everything here from the bottom of my heart. It is like it has been designed especially to show a young man how wretched life and all its aspects are” (Kirsch). 

Hermann was released from the asylum after several months and allowed to attend a local high school. His relationship with his parents, however, was permanently damaged; he refused to attend his mother’s funeral when she died in 1902. 

Hermann, who started his working life as an apprentice bookseller, went on to become a popular German writer, publishing his first book, a collection of poetry in 1899 and his first novel in 1904. He eventually achieved international prominence in the 1960s. 

Hermann Hesse was awarded the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt in 1946, the Nobel Prize in Literature also in 1946 and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1955. 


Kirsch, Adam. “Hermann Hesse’s Arrested Development”. The New Yorker, 19 November 2018. 

Image available here.