Robert Musil

Robert Musil, Writer
The writer Robert Musil, c. 1930
Bundesarchiv, picture 183-R1206-501, Photograph: without specification

Robert Musil

[Ich] bin sogar in der Dichtung ein wenig ein Spatzenschreck, um den sich gern Stille breitmacht.

[Even when writing prose, I am something of a scarecrow around whom silence likes to spread. (ed. trans.)]

Robert Musil in a letter to Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein, 18 April 1939

Bornon 6 November 1880 in St. Ruprecht bei Klagenfurt, Austria
Diedon 15 April 1942 in Genf, Switzerland
ExileAustria, Switzerland

In 1906, Robert Musil published his first novel, “Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless” (The Confusions of Young Törless). Although it met with an appreciative reception, Musil was unable to earn a living from his writing. A variety of posts followed, for example as a librarian and editor. After the end of World War I, Musil embarked upon his great literary project “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften” (The Man Without Qualities), which was to engage his attention until the end of his life.

After the National Socialists came to power in 1933, Robert Musil, who was living in Berlin with his Jewish wife Martha at the time, left Germany and returned to Austria. This “exile in his homeland” exacerbated the writer’s difficult material circumstances and forced him to rely on financial support. Musil’s volume of prose “Nachlass zu Lebzeiten (The Posthumous Papers of a Living Author) 1936, which was published by Humanitas-Verlag in Zurich, was immediately banned in Germany.

Robert Musil and his wife fled to Switzerland in the summer of 1938 following the annexation of Austria. In order to avoid official sanctions in Switzerland and a ban on the publication of further works in Germany, Musil refrained from taking a public stance against National Socialism. Nevertheless, the first two volumes of “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften” (The Man Without Qualities) were banned in October 1938, followed by a ban on all his still-accessible works in April 1940. Robert Musil’s life in Switzerland became increasingly isolated. His precarious material circumstances and creative crises prevented him from finishing work on “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften” (The Man Without Qualities).

Selected works:
Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (Novel, 1906)
Nachlaß zu Lebzeiten (Story, 1936)
Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (Novel, Book 1: 1930, Book 2, first volume: 1932)

Further reading:
Corino, Karl: Robert Musil. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt 2003.
Nübel, Birgit/Wolf, Norbert Christian (Hg.): Robert Musil Handbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter 2016.