Robert Musil

Robert Musil

Musil in 1900
Born (1880-11-06)6 November 1880
Klagenfurt, Austria-Hungary
Died 15 April 1942(1942-04-15) (aged 61)
Geneva, Switzerland
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Austrian
Alma mater University of Berlin
Period 1905–42
Genre Literary fiction
Literary movement Modernism


Robert Musil (German: [ˈmuːzɪl] or [ˈmuːsɪl]; 6 November 1880 – 15 April 1942) was an Austrian philosophical writer. His unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities (German: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) is generally considered to be one of the most important and influential modernist novels.


Musil was born in Klagenfurt, Kärnten, the son of engineer Alfred Edler von[1] Musil (1846, Timișoara – 1924) and his wife Hermine Bergauer (1853, Linz – 1924). The orientalist Alois Musil ("The Czech Lawrence") was his second cousin.[2]

Soon after Robert's birth, the family moved to Chomutov in Bohemia, and in 1891 Musil's father was appointed to the chair of Mechanical Engineering at the German Technical University in Brno, and awarded a hereditary nobility in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was baptized Robert Mathias Musil and his name was officially Robert Mathias Edler von Musil from 22 October 1917, when his father received a hereditary title of nobility Edler, until 3 April 1919, when the use of noble titles was forbidden in Austria.


Commemorative plaque in Brno

Musil was short in stature, but strong and skilled at wrestling, and by his early teens already more than his parents could handle. They sent him to military boarding school at Eisenstadt (1892–1894) and then Hranice (1894–1897). These school experiences are reflected in his first novel, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless (The Confusions of Young Törless).

After graduating as a cadet, Musil studied briefly at a military academy in Vienna during the fall of 1897, but then switched to mechanical engineering, joining his father's department at Technical University in Brno. During his university studies he studied engineering by day, but at night read literature and philosophy, and went to the theatre and art exhibits. Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ernst Mach were particular interests of his university years. Musil finished his studies in three years, then in 1902–1903 served as an unpaid assistant to Professor Julius Carl von Bach, in Stuttgart. During this time he began work on Young Törless and invented the device "Musil'scher Farbkreisel", The Musil color top, a simple tool for continuous production of mixed colors by additive color mixing with two differently colored rotating disks.

Musil grew tired of engineering and what he perceived as the limited world-view of engineers. He launched a new round of doctoral studies (1903–1908) in psychology and philosophy at the University of Berlin under the renowned Professor Carl Stumpf. In 1905, Musil met his future wife, Martha Marcovaldi (née Heinemann, 21 January 1874 – 6 November 1949). She had already been widowed and remarried, with two children, and was seven years older than Musil. His first novel, Young Törless, was published in 1906.

In 1909 Musil completed his doctorate and Professor Alexius Meinong offered him a position at the University of Graz, which he turned down to concentrate on writing of novels. Over the next two years, he wrote and published two stories ("The Temptation of Quiet Veronica" and "The Perfecting of a Love") collected in Vereinigungen (Unions) published in 1911. During this same year, Martha's divorce was completed and Musil married her. As she was Jewish, they both converted to Protestantism as a sign of their union. Until this time, Musil had been supported by his family, but he now found employment first as a librarian in the Technical University of Vienna, and then in an editorial role with the Berlin Literary Journal, He also worked on a play entitled Die Schwärmer (The Enthusiasts), which was published in 1921.

Depiction of Musil at the Musilhaus in Klagenfurt

When World War I began, Musil joined the Army and was stationed first in Tirol and then at Austria's Supreme Army Command in Bolzano. In 1916 Musil visited Prague and met Franz Kafka, whose work he held in high esteem. After the war's end, and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Musil returned to his literary career in Vienna. He published a collection of short stories, Drei Frauen (Three Women), in 1924. He also admired the Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, at whose memorial service in 1926 in Berlin, Musil called "undervalued" for most of his life. He said that by the time of his death, Rilke had turned into "a delicate, well-matured liqueur suitable for grown-up ladies",[3] but that his work is "too demanding" to be "considered relaxing".[4]

In 1930 and 1933[5] in Berlin – 1,074-page[6] he published Volume 1 (Part I: A Sort of Introduction, and Part II: The Like of It Now Happens) and 605-page unfinished Volume 2 (Part III: Into the Millennium (The Criminals)) of his masterpiece, The Man Without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften).[7] Part III did not include 20 chapters withdrawn from Vol. 2 of 1933 while in printer's galley proofs. The novel deals with the moral and intellectual decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire through the eyes of the book's protagonist Ulrich, an ex-mathematician who has failed to engage with the world around him in a manner that would allow him to possess qualities. It is set in Vienna on the eve of World War I.

The Man Without Qualities brought Musil only mediocre commercial success. Though he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, he felt he did not receive the recognition he deserved. He sometimes expressed annoyance at the success of more famous colleagues like Thomas Mann or Hermann Broch, who admired his work deeply, and tried to shield him from economic difficulties and encouraged his writing, even though Musil was initially critical of Mann.

In the early 1920s, Musil lived mostly in Berlin. In Vienna Musil was a frequent visitor to Eugenie Schwarzwald's salon (the model for Diotima in The Man Without Qualities). In 1932, the Robert Musil Society was founded in Berlin on the initiative of Thomas Mann. In the same year Thomas Mann was asked to name outstanding contemporary novels, and he cited only one, The Man Without Qualities. In 1936, Musil suffered his first stroke.

The last years of Musil's life were dominated by Nazism and World War II: the Nazis banned his books. He saw early Nazism first-hand while living in Berlin from 1931 to 1933. In 1938, when Austria became a part of the Third Reich, Musil and his Jewish wife Martha left for exile in Switzerland, where he died on 15 April 1942 at the age of 61. Martha wrote to Franz Theodor Csokor that he had suffered a stroke.[8] Only eight people attended his cremation. Martha cast his ashes into the woods of Mont Salève.[9] From 1933 until his death, Musil was working on Part III of The Man Without Qualities. In 1943 in Lausanne, Martha published a 462-page collection of material from his literary remains including the 20 galley chapters withdrawn from Part III before Vol. 2 appeared in 1933,[5] as well as drafts of the final incomplete chapters and notes on the development and direction of the novel.[7] She died in Rome in 1949.


After his death Musil's work was almost forgotten. His writings began to reappear during the early 1950s. The first translation of The Man Without Qualities in English was published by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins in 1953, 1954 and 1960. An updated translation by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike, containing extensive selections from unpublished drafts, appeared in 1995.[10] Musil's work has received more attention since that time,[11] including the philosophical aspects of his novels. One of the most important philosophy journals, The Monist published a special issue on The Philosophy of Robert Musil in 2014, edited by Bence Nanay.[12]



Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Robert Musil


  1. 1 2 He was baptized Robert Mathias Musil and his name was officially Robert Mathias Edler von Musil from 22 October 1917, when his father received a hereditary title of nobility Edler, until 3 April 1919, when the use of noble titles was forbidden in Austria.
  2. "Virtual Vienna Net – The Great Austrian Writer Robert Musil". 15 April 1942. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  3. Gray, Sadie. The Times Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. Robert Musil, Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses, trans. Burton Pike and David S. Luft (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995).
  5. 1 2 Peter L. Stern & Company, Inc. "Book Details: MUSIL, ROBERT, Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities)". Peter L. Stern & Company, Inc. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  6. Wikipedia. "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften: Ausgaben". Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  7. 1 2 Freed, Mark M. (5 May 2011). Robert Musil and the Nonmodern; A note on Musil's texts (1 ed.). New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. xi. ISBN 1-4411-2251-6.
  8. Der Monat 026/1950, pp. 185–189, on
  9. Markus Kreuzwieser
  10. The Man Without Qualities (2 volume set). "The Man Without Qualities (2 volume set): Robert Musil, Burton Pike, Sophie Wilkins: 9780394510521: Books". Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  11. Smiley, Jane (17 June 2006). "Robert Musil: The Man without Qualities". The Guardian.

Further reading

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Robert Musil
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robert Musil.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/13/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.