The Man Without Qualities

The Man Without Qualities
The Man Without Qualities  
Man ohne Eigenschaften 2.jpg
cover of the first edition of vol. 2
Author(s) Robert Musil
Original title Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften
Country Austria
Language German
Genre(s) novel
Publisher Rowohlt Verlag
Publication date 1930-1942
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
LC Classification PT2625.U8 M3

The Man Without Qualities (1930–42; German: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) is an unfinished novel in three books by the Austrian writer Robert Musil.

The book is a "story of ideas", which takes place in the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy's last days, and the plot often veers into allegorical dissections of a wide range of human themes and feelings.

It has a particular concern with the values of truth and opinion and how society organises ideas, though the book is over a thousand pages long and no one theme dominates.


The history of the novel

Musil was working on his novel for more than twenty years. He started in 1921 and spent the rest of his life writing it. When he died in 1942, the novel was not completed. The 1,074-page[1] Volume 1 (Part I: A Sort of Introduction, and Part II: The Like of It Now Happens) and 605-page Volume 2 (Part III: Into the Millennium (The Criminals)) were published in 1930 and 1933[2] respectively in Berlin. Part III did not include 20 chapters withdrawn from Vol. 2 of 1933 while in printer's galley proofs. From 1933 until death, Musil was working on Part III. In 1943 in Lausanne, Martha published a 462-page collection of material from literary remains including the 20 galley chapters withdrawn from Part III, as well as drafts of the final incomplete chapters and notes on the development and direction of the novel. The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1. was published in English first in 1953 in translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. Vol. 2 followed in 1955, and 3 - in 1961. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1953, 1954, 1960, first editions, 8vo [Octavo (max. 6x9 inches)]; New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., first US editions). They were titled: Vol. 1 - A Sort of Introduction, The Like of It Now Happens (I); Vol. 2 - The Like of It Now Happens (II); Vol. 3 - Into the Millennium (III) (The Criminals), and had xxxv+365, vii+454, xi+445 pages respectively. In 1995, Knopf published two-volume edition (1,774 pages) in translation by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. Parts I and II are in Vol. 1, while Part III, the twenty galley chapters, and unfinished chapters, are in Vol. 2.[3]

Musil's almost daily preoccupation with writing left his family in dire financial straits. The book brought neither fame nor fortune to him or his family. This was one of the reasons why he felt bitter and unrecognized during the last two decades of his life. The combination of poverty and a multitude of ideas is one of the most striking characteristics of Musil's biography.

There are strong autobiographical features to be found in the text as the main characters' ideas and attitudes are believed to be those of Musil.[citation needed] Most of the aspects of the Viennese life in the novel are based on history and Musil's life. The plot and the characters (with the exception of a short appearance of the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I) are invented (although some of them had inspirations in eminent Austrians and Germans). Elsa (Berta) von Czuber, whom Musil met while he studied in Brno between 1889 and 1901, inspired him with the image of Ulrich's sister Agathe. Donath and Alice Charlemont, Musil's friends, were models of Walter and Clarisse and Viennese socialite Eugenie Schwarzwald gave birth to the character of Diotima and Arnheim may have been based on Walther Rathenau and Thomas Mann.

His detailed portrait of a decaying fin-de-siècle world is similar to those of Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers, Karl Kraus's The Last Days of Mankind or Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday.

Some of Musil's working titles were The Gutters, Achilles (the original name of the main character Ulrich) or The Spy.

Style and structure

Musil's monumental novel contains more than 1,700 pages (depending on edition) in three volumes, the last of which was published by Musil's wife after his death. The novel is famous for the irony with which Musil displays Austrian society shortly before World War I. The story takes place in 1913 in Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary which Musil refers to by the playful name Kakanien ('Kaka' is a child's word for feces in German, just as in American English; 'kako-' is also a prefix denoting bad in words of Greek origin). The name of Kakanien is derived from the German abbreviation K und K (kaiserlich und königlich or "Imperial and Royal"), used to indicate the status of Austria-Hungary as a Dual Monarchy, demonstrating the lack of political, administrative and sentimental unity in Austria-Hungary of those times. Musil elaborates on the paradoxes of the Kakanian way of life: "By its constitution it was liberal, but the system of government was clerical. The system of government was clerical, but the general attitude to life was liberal. Before the law all citizens were equal, but not everyone, of course, was a citizen." (Musil: The Man without Qualities, Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction, Chapter 8 - Kakanien).

The story contains approximately twenty characters of bizarre Viennese life, from the beau monde to the demi-monde, including an aristocrat, an army officer, a banker, three bourgeois wives, an intriguing chamber maid, a black pageboy and last but not least a man who murders a prostitute.

According to Italian writer Alberto Arbasino, Fellini's 1963 film used similar artisitc procedures and had parallels with Musil's novel.[4]


Musil's aim (and that of his main character, Ulrich) was to arrive at a synthesis between strict scientific fact and the mystical, which he refers to as "the hovering life."

Musil originally did not want the first sections of his monumental work to be published until the whole was finished. Later, when it was too late to make changes in the portions released, he regretted he had submitted to his publisher's insistence. Critics speculate on the viability of Musil's original conception. Some estimate the intended length of the work to be twice as long as the text Musil left behind[citation needed].

Plot summary

The first book, entitled "A Sort of Introduction", is an introduction of the protagonist, a 32-year old mathematician named Ulrich who is in search of a sense of life and reality but fails to find it. His ambivalence towards morals and indifference to life has brought him to the state of being "a man without qualities," depending on the outer world to form his character. A kind of keenly analytical passivity is his most typical attitude.

Musil said that it was not particularly difficult to describe Ulrich in his main features. Ulrich himself only knows he is strangely indifferent to all his qualities. Lack of any profound essence and ambiguity as a general attitude to life are his principal characteristics.

Meanwhile, we meet a murderer and rapist Moosbrugger who is condemned for his murder of a prostitute. Other protagonists are Ulrich's nymphomaniac mistress Bonadea[5] and his friend Walter's neurotic wife Clarisse, whose refusal to go along with commonplace existence leads to Walter's insanity.

In the second book, "Pseudoreality Prevails", Ulrich joins the so-called "Collateral Campaign" or "Parallel Campaign", frantic preparations for a celebration in honor of 70 years of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph's reign. That same year, 1918 the German Emperor Wilhelm II would be ruler of his country for 30 years. This collateral coincidence lashes all the Austrian patriots into a fury of action to demonstrate Austria's political, cultural and philosophical supremacy via a feast which will capture the minds of the Austrian Emperor's subjects and people of the world for ever. On that account, many bright ideas and visions are discussed (e.g., The Austrian Year 1918, The World Year 1918, The Austrian Peace Year 1918 or The Austrian World Peace Year 1918).

A couple of people take part in the organization team or catch the eye of Ulrich. Ermelinda Tuzzi, called Diotima[6] is Ulrich's cousin as well as the wife of a civil servant; she tries to become a Viennese muse of philosophy, inspiring whoever crosses her path; she miraculously attracts both Ulrich and Arnheim. The nobleman in charge of the Campaign, the old conservative Count Leinsdorf, is incapable of deciding or even of not-deciding. General Stumm von Bordwehr of the Imperial and Royal Army, is unpopular for his attempts in this generally mystical atmosphere to make things systematic and German Count Paul Arnheim (modeled after German politician Walther Rathenau) is an admirer of Diotima's combination of beauty and spirit, without feeling the need to marry her.

While most of the participants (Diotima most feverishly) try to associate the reign of Franz Joseph I with vague ideas of humanity, progress, tradition and happiness, the followers of Realpolitik see a chance to exploit the situation: Stumm von Bordwehr wishes to get the Austrian army income raised and Arnheim plans to buy oil fields in an eastern province of Austria.

The last volume, entitled "Into the Millennium (The Criminals)", is about Ulrich's sister Agathe (who enters the novel at the end of the second book). They experience a mystically incestuous stirring upon meeting after their father's death. They see themselves as soul mates or as the book says "siamese-twins".

As published, the novel ends in a large section of drafts, notes, false-starts and forays written by Musil as he tried to work out the proper ending for his book. In the German edition, there is even a CD-ROM available that holds thousands of pages of alternative versions and drafts.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal


  1. ^ Wikipedia. "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften: Ausgaben". Wikimedia Foundation Inc.. Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  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. 
  3. ^ Freed, Mark M. (May 5, 2011) (in English). Robert Musil and the Nonmodern; A note on Musil's texts (1 ed.). New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. xi. ISBN 1441122516. 
  4. ^ Gabriele Pedullà, Alberto Arbasino [2000] Sull'albero di ciliegie [On the cherry tree] - Conversando di letteratura e di cinema con Alberto Arbasino in CONTEMPORANEA Rivista di studi sulla letteratura e sulla comunicazione, Volume 1, 2003 quotation:

    Q. In alcuni tuoi scritti degli anni Sessanta – penso soprattutto a Certi romanzi – la riflessione critica sulla questione del romanzo (che cosa è il romanzo, cosa l’antiromanzo, come si può e come si deve scrivere un’opera in prosa…) è sempre intrecciata, quando in modo più implicito, quando in modo più esplicito con la riflessione sul cinema. In particolare mi pare che la tua vicinanza con Fellini sia particolarmente significativa, per esempio nella tua recensione di Otto e mezzo per «Il Giorno». A. Stavamo leggendo Musil e scoprivamo dei paralleli e dei procedimenti simili. E senza poter stabilire, né allora, né oggi, quanto ci fosse di Flaiano e quanto, invece, fosse proprio una intuizione sua.

  5. ^ Ironic usage of virginal Roman goddess name Bona Dea
  6. ^ The pseudonym is a literary loan from Diotima, a priestess and wise female tutor of Socrates.

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