Robert Walser’s early reputation as a miniaturist was misleading. His essays and stories actually form the nucleus of a larger work, which he once described as a “sliced-up or torn-apart novel of myself.” The main protagonist in this autobiographical “novel” is not so much Walser as his poetic self. This self adopts a wide variety of roles, such as that of the servant, the artist, and the child. Yet Walser never identifies for long with these fictional alter egos. His stance toward them is ironic, haughty, or nonchalant. Having adopted them with the flick of a pen, he can discard them just as swiftly. More crucial than their individual identities is their unmistakable voice, which remained remarkably constant throughout his career. By turns effusive and reticent, self-effacing and self-inflating, long-winded and laconic, solitary and convivial, this voice determines the cadences of his prose.
Throughout his career, Walser struggled to reconcile his modernist practice with his conservative ideals. His literary values were firmly rooted in Swiss literary tradition. Among Walser’s idols was the civic-minded nineteenth century novelist Gottfried Keller, who is renowned for his lyrical realism. Walser’s own prose, however, is closer to the self-conscious experimentation of modernists such as Virginia Woolf.
Fritz Kochers Aufsätze
While not a major achievement, his first book, Fritz Kochers Aufsätze (Fritz...
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