restricted access Robert Musil, and: Robert Musil's "The Man without Qualities": A Critical Study (review)
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Reviewed by
Lowell A. Bangerter. Robert Musil. New York: Continuum, 1988. 153 pp. No price given.
Philip Payne. Robert Musil's "The Man without Qualities": A Critical Study. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 256 pp. $49.50.

Bangerter's monograph provides a readable layman's introduction to Musil and his works. A chronological outline of Musil's life prefaces the brief biographical sketch and six chapters focused on his literary works. A minimal bibliography (which includes both works by and about Musil), chapter notes, and an index are also included. Although quotations and references in the text indicate at least passing familiarity with some secondary literature, there is little evidence of knowledge of recent Musil research. Indeed a number of issues left unresolved in this work have already been successfully dealt with elsewhere.

Bangerter's biographical depiction of Musil is marked by an almost "gentlemanly" aversion toward certain biographical materials—thus Musil's mother's relationship to an "intimate friend" remains vague, as do Musil's "meaningful encounters with several women." There is also a marked tendency toward broad assertions: "Martha proved to be the ideal companion for Musil" or "The fame and relative prosperity of the early 1920s may well have had negative consequences for Musil in the long run." On other occasions, Bangerter's commentary verges on the judgmental: "Much of the tension and conflict in his life arose from his inability or unwillingness to conform to external expectations"; indeed Bangerter seems to feel that Musil complained too much and did too little.

In accord with his belief that "problems of personal growth and the struggle toward self-definition are the focus not only of Musil's first novel but also of his oeuvre as a whole," Bangerter views the works primarily in terms of Musil's biography and his life-long quest for self. The discussions, which are primarily thematic in nature, offer commentary rather than analysis, and key issues are more often raised than answered.

However, perhaps most regrettable in this introductory study is the limited attention paid to the intellectual climate of Musil's day and the failure to provide a sociopolitical context for his life and works. Disappointing, too, is the fact that while Bangerter cites "the consistent artistry" of Musil's presentation and his "visible mastery of language," he gives virtually no consideration to stylistic or structural elements.

Bangerter's comment that at Musil's death "his existence like his final great novel . . . remained curiously enigmatic and incomplete" might serve well as a summary of this study, and perhaps its service lies in the fact that it might whet the appetite of its readers and, by not providing sufficient fare itself, will encourage them to discover Musil on their own.

As pleasant as Bangerter's monograph appears, it wanes in comparison with Payne's stimulating and commanding study. Not only is Payne's work thoroughly researched and meticulously documented; it is also eminently readable and its analysis convincing. The study portrays Musil and his work in the context of his era, creating a convincing portrayal of both Musil and his times, and Payne makes good use of recent and pertinent cultural and sociopolitical studies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Vienna, so sorely missing in Bangerter's work.

The study is enhanced by its authoritative footnotes, an excellent bibliography, and a helpful index. The only negative aspect, which may reflect the press's editorial policy, is the exclusive use of English in citations, although Payne succeeds relatively [End Page 290] well in his attempt "to be faithful to the original," even though, as he admits, "this often results in English which sounds rather stilted." Where no adequate English equivalent exists, Payne has been careful to indicate Musil's original German term.

Although the main focus is on The Man without Qualities, Payne also provides illuminating insight into Musil's other, earlier works, giving them a vitality and strength of their own. Furthermore, rather than ignoring the complexity of the often paradoxical aspects of Musil himself, Payne is able to develop a convincing and comprehensive portrait of Musil, one which both illuminates and is illuminated by his writing.

The first part, devoted...


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