(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Most critics consider Correction to be Thomas Bernhard’s masterpiece. On the surface, the novel is very similar to Concrete and The Loser; indeed, one could call the three novels a trilogy on the dangers of striving for perfection. Whereas the other two are long interior monologues presented as one single paragraph, Correction is divided into two sections with individual headings. The first section is entitled “Hoeller’s Garret,” while the second part is called “Sifting and Sorting” and is noticeably different from the first part in style and content.

In the first section, the narrator—an intellectual afflicted with a lung disease—moves into the garret of a friend’s house (the name Hoeller strongly evokes the German word Hölle, meaning “hell”) to take charge of the papers of his longtime friend Roithamer, who has recently committed suicide. A note found on his body requested the narrator to become the executor and editor of his papers, especially of three versions of an essay that tries to explain the reasons for Roithamer’s failed utopian plan to construct a cone-shaped building in the middle of a forest, intended as the perfect abode for his beloved sister. In some unexplained way, however, the building led to the death of his sister shortly after he installed her there, and Roithamer then hanged himself in a nearby forest clearing.

The title of the novel is taken from the...

(The entire section is 571 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Correction is a first-person narrative written, as is typical of many of Thomas Bernhard’s works, in one sustained statement that has no paragraph divisions. The first of its two sections contains the ruminations of the unnamed narrator. The narrator, who is plagued with lung infections, meditates on the life and suicide of his friend, Roithammer, a brilliant and obsessed man. The narrator has moved into the attic apartment of his deceased friend; he tries to assemble the numerous notes that the latter had collected in his attempt to write a treatise on his life in Altensam, the Austrian estate where his brothers and sisters reside, and on his architectural plans to construct a round building in the woods for his deceased sister.

The second section represents the narrator’s paraphrase of his friend’s writings. Roithammer, once an outstanding student and tutor at the University of Cambridge, returned to the stifling and petty atmosphere of Altensam. For him, the community and its narrow attitudes became a kind of spiritual prison which eventually led to the taking of his own life in a clearing deep in the woods. He was an exceedingly intellectual individual whose interests included philosophy, mathematics, and modern music. He rented an attic apartment in the home of the taxidermist, Holler. Everyone considered the scholar somewhat of an eccentric. He planned, for example, to sell the family estate and to donate the proceeds to the inmates of the local prisons.

The second son of the family, Roithammer received his father’s huge inheritance and proceeded with a fantastic plan to design and build a round structure for his beloved sister. He constructed the edifice and, immediately thereafter, the sister died. He went back to England but soon returned and began to write his treatise in several, ever more succinct, versions. Isolated and in a profound despair, he took his own life.

Living in Holler’s attic room, the narrator becomes himself obsessed with the “correction” of his friend’s manuscripts and confronts his own desperation and despair. He becomes almost an alter ego of Roithammer and, like Roithammer, verges on the brink of suicide.