Robert Musil was born in 1880 in Austria and studied at the military college in Vienna and undertook an engineering degree in Brno, Czechoslovakia, before turning to psychology and philosophy doctoral studies in Berlin, where he began to write. He married Martha Marcovaldi in 1911. He fought in World War I, where he befriended Franz Kafka in Prague. Following the war, Musil returned to a literary career in Vienna and Berlin, during which time he was nominated for the Nobel Prize. He was the author of Five Women, The Posthumous Papers of a Living Author, and The Confusions of Young Torless. His works were banned by the Nazis, and he and his Jewish wife went into exile during World War II. He died of a stroke in 1942. Musil's works began to reappear in the 1950s, and his unfinished The Man Without Qualities is generally considered to be one of the most important modernist novels.
After nearly completing his training as an officer candidate in the Austro-Hungarian Empire's best military academies, Musil completed a degree in civil engineering at Brno and then moved to the University of Berlin, where he studied philosophy and experimental psychology. He spent most of his adult life in Vienna until emigrating to Switzerland in 1938 in flight from the Nazis. There he worked on this massive unfinished novel, which he began in the early 1920s, until he died in 1942. Set on the verge of World War I, the novel revolves around the efforts of Ulrich, the man without qualities, to find meaning in a society in which convention stifles a new era struggling to be born. Experimental in form, the novel virtually eschews plot, relying instead on character studies and essayistic passages. This new translation offers the most complete version yet to appear in English, incorporating all the material published during Musil's life (the first two books and part of the third); the end of the third book, edited by Martha Musil in 1943; and other materials from Musil's posthumous papers relating to the novel. This tighter, more naturally flowing translation is a significant improvement over the first, clearly reproducing Musil's brilliant wit atop the solid foundation of his breathtaking political, social, and psychological insight. Recommended for all literary collections.-Michael T. O'Pecko, Towson State Univ., Md.