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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