Robert Musil Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Acknowledged only after his death as the equal of such writers as Thomas Mann and Hermann Broch in twentieth century German literature, Robert Musil (MEW-zihl) was Austro-Hungary’s portrait artist and absurdist conscience during the philosophically chaotic years between the world wars. Born in the principality of Carinthia, Austria, into an Austrian family belonging to the educated service elite of the Habsburg monarchy, he was the son of Alfred Musil, an engineer, and Hermine Bergauer Musil, who was of Bohemian extraction. His early schooling was interrupted by frequent relocations, from upper Austria to Brno to military boarding schools at Eisenstadt and Mährisch-Weisskirchen, which led to his entry into the Military Academy of Technology, Vienna. There Musil almost followed an army career. Eventually, however, his father’s influence and position at the Technological University in Brno brought Musil to complete an engineering degree. Once free of military service, Musil studied philosophy, mathematics, and psychology in Berlin from 1903 to 1908, moving toward literature but always retaining his love of science, a combination of interests that explains his organized, logical approach to the essentially absurd vision of his novels.

The positive critical reception of his first novel, Young Törless, published in 1906, encouraged Musil to pursue his interest in writing, although in that same year he patented a color-testing chromatometer. His marriage to Martha Marcovaldi in 1911, together with his military service for Austria from 1914 to 1918, marked the end of his formative years. Balancing a scientific career with his growing...

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Robert Musil Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Robert Musil was the child of Hermine and Alfred Musil; his father was an engineer and later a professor at the Technical Institute in Brno (now in the Czech Republic). At the age of twelve, young Musil was sent away from home to military schools in Eisenstadt and then Mährisch-Weisskirchen, which later were to provide the setting for Young Törless. He became increasingly interested in technical subjects, and he continued his studies in mechanical engineering at Brno, where he passed state examinations in mathematics, physics, mechanics, and statistics. He was such a promising student that, after he completed his military service in 1902, he was invited to work at the Technical Institute in Stuttgart, which was then the most modern laboratory for mechanical engineering in Europe. A year later, in 1903, he moved from Stuttgart to the University of Berlin, where he took up the study of philosophy and experimental psychology. He also invented a device for use in the psychological testing of the perception of colors. Musil completed his first novel in 1905, made contacts among members of the literary circles in Berlin, and, upon completing his doctoral dissertation on Ernst Mach in 1908, decided not to pursue an academic career, but instead to try to live as a writer. He returned to an archivist’s job in Vienna in 1911, where he married Martha Marcovaldi (née Heimann), who remained his lifelong companion.

During World War I, Musil served as a captain on the Italian front and as a writer and editor for Austrian military newspapers. After the war, his time was divided between Vienna and Berlin; he was active as a playwright and essayist and as a member of various literary and journalistic organizations. The first two volumes of The Man Without Qualities appeared in 1930 and 1933. When Adolf Hitler came to power, Musil left Berlin for Vienna and continued working on his novel. He suffered a mild stroke in 1936, and in 1938, following the Anschluss (Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria), he went into exile, by way of Italy—first to Zurich and then to Geneva. His books were banned in Germany and Austria. Musil’s last years in Geneva were troubled with financial and passport worries and with the problem of carrying his novel forward. He died suddenly of a stroke in 1942. The first “complete” English-language edition of The Man Without Qualities appeared ten years later.

Robert Musil Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Robert Musil (MEW-zihl) was born in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt in 1880. His father, Alfred, an engineer, was elevated to nobility in 1917, but Robert chose not to use the family’s aristocratic title “Edler von.” His mother, Hermine, was involved with another man, somewhat openly, a situation even tolerated by her husband. This not only alienated Musil from both his parents but also was reflected in his literary treatment of erotic themes. In addition, it has been speculated that the death of Musil’s sister before the author’s own birth created an image of the “lost sister” as “an unobtainable unity and wholeness” according to critic Roger Kimball, which was later embodied in Agathe in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (1930-1943; The Man Without Qualities, 1953-1960).

Following his father’s wishes, Musil attended military boarding schools in Eisenstadt (from 1892) and Mährisch-Weisskirchen (from 1894). His experiences of these settings, especially of the latter school, provided the background of his first novel, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless (1906; Young Törless, 1955). In 1897, Musil enrolled in the Technical Military Academy in Vienna but dropped out in 1898, when he began studying mechanical engineering. After completing his studies and finishing his military year in 1901, Musil worked at the Technical University at Stuttgart in 1902 and 1903, then moved to Berlin, where he studied...

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Robert Musil Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Living in the age of modernity, whose dizzying speed was often experienced as deeply disconcerting decline and insanity, Robert Musil was searching for what he called the “other condition,” an embodiment of utopian hope for society. The Man Without Qualities explores individual insanity (Moosbrugger, Clarisse) and collective stupidity (the Parallel Campaign) in Kakania (Musil’s ironic term for Austria), while the utopian element of the brother/sister plot is delayed, although the author had planned its failure from the beginning. Musil’s other novel, the earlier Young Törless, made the author famous with its psychological study of a schoolboy who has to deal with, among other experiences, confusing visions of the “other condition” before he can achieve an adult sense of selfhood. Törless’s attempts at finding clarity are related to Ulrich’s difficulties defining his middle-aged self.