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This article is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

Robert Musil - The Ironic Mystic David Heald

To mark the centenary of Robert Musil's birth in November 1880, a belated activity was discernible in the publishing and academic worlds and in the German-language press. A nine-volume paperback set of his collected works and a massively scholarly two-volume edition of his diaries were recently published in Germany, both edited by Adolf Frisé, a man who has taken up the cudgels as vigorously as any on behalf of Musil. At the same time, Picador Books again made accessible to a wide readership the excellent three-volume Kaiser/Wilkins translation of The Man Without Qualities, long out of print in paperback (also re-issued by Secker and Warburg in hardback). Young Törless has also been re-issued in English translation in paperback.

Is Musil about to get his due? One's predictions on this score should be circumspect. For a long time Musil has enjoyed something like the deadly status which Lessing perceived that Klop-stock had acquired and which he feared he too might acquire-that of being a 'classic' in the Pantheon of Letters, more lionized than read, mentioned knowingly at literary parties by name-droppers. In the university English departments of the Anglo-Saxon world Musil has, I suspect, been read only by a few enthusiasts and comparative literary scholars. Even in German departments he is not widely taught or read. Yet whoever reads even one page of Musil's massive novel, or any of his shorter pieces, essays, criticisms, stories, aphorisms, diaries, cannot fail to be engaged and provoked by this sharp and ...


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