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The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails Paperback – December 9, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This intriguing landmark of modernism from Austrian writer Robert Musil has been newly translated from the German by Sophie Wilkins and re-edited in a textual overhaul. This new edition includes portions of the author's original manuscripts that have never been published before. Though an imposing edifice of writing, devotees of literary modernism and anyone interested in the decline of the Austrian empire must read this sweeping, comic take on life in pre-Great War Vienna. The story of Ulrich, the man without qualities himself, is continued in a second volume, The Man Without Qualities: Into the Millenium,From the Posthumous Papers.

From Publishers Weekly

This edition of Musil's classic modernist novel features the complete text in a new translation, as well as extensive supplementary material.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (December 9, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767879
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

170 of 180 people found the following review helpful By Manuel Haas on November 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Like Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain", this immense book aims at giving an overview of the ideas of its time. Musil is a more precise thinker and stylist than Mann, and "The Man Without Qualities" has a lot more to offer than Mann's book.
There are two opposing tendencies in the novel: On the one hand, Musil offers a highly entertaining satirical portrait of Austria-Hungary right before the First World War. His detached hero Ulrich meets all kinds of bizarre people, who happen to be members of the ruling class of the country. Like a vivisecteur, Ulrich analyzes the philosophies and ideologies of his time. On the other hand, he dreams of a kind of new mysticism, an emotional purity that is opposed to the dross surrounding him; together with his sister he embarks on quest for "the other state of being". Musil never finished the novel, he died before he could achieve a conclusion; which may have been impossible anyway.
This gigantic torso of a novel is arguably the greatest novel of the century. I have not yet come across anything that could rival it. Musil's prose is so precise that after reading a few pages you feel that your mind has been refreshed and cleared. This is not a novel to be read in a few days, but even if you never manage to finish it, you will always come back to it.
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135 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Mark Krol on January 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
When I read the old translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser, I judged 'The Man Without Qualities' to be one of the 10 greatest novels of all time. I bought this new translation with excitement, imagining an even better version by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. As soon as the novel arrived, I started reading. After total boredom from the first 400 pages, I put it down blaming myself for this outcome. I returned to it six months later, with determination to rediscover the great novel I'd read 10 years ago. Again I was bored. Today, I opened the old translation along with the new. I searched for passages that I'd underlined with awe 10 years ago, and compared them with the new translation. Here is an example: (The old)"You people are in such a hurry. There always has to be a goal, an ideal, a programme there for you - something absolute. And what comes of it in the end is only a compromise after all, an average." versus (The new) "You and your friends - always jumping the gun. There's always got to be a supreme goal, an ideal, a programe - an absolute. Yet in the end, all that ever comes of it a compromise, some common denominator." The clarity and dramatic power of the former is replaced with soapy mush. How can Musil compete with Joyce and Proust when the new translation fails to connect to minds attuned to reading Shakespeare, Kafka, Cervantes and Tolstoy? Great literature lodges in the mind with the clarity of rhetorical force. It does not slide around like soap over marble. If you want to believe that Musil was one of the great novelists of the 20th century, then ignore the new translation and find the superior, alas incomplete, old one in a second-hand bookstore.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Professor Nobody on February 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
Like the infamous Proust translation by Moncrief and Kilmartin of Remembrance of Things Past, The Man Without Qualities is famous for and exists today because of the labor of the original translators.

Upon reading The Man Without Qualities I was swept up and lost in the tide of the prose, I simply could not stop reading it. Readability is something one doesn't often think of when considering classic foreign novels, one thinks of slow ponderous prose and intense philosophical repose that is dry and too descriptive. Oddly, this is what the new translation is, while the original is divergently witty and full of curiosity and clarity.

Granted, both translations contain the same thoughts, characters and themes. One cannot just toss one aside while fawning over the other. The new edition is indeed more complete a book than the old, but its sacrifice is apparent in how it carries the reader along.

Thus two excerpts: One from the old translation, and the same passage from the new.

"Perhaps not all of these people believe in that stuff about the Devil to whom one can sell one's soul; but all those who have to know something about the soul, because they draw a good income out of it as clergy, historians or artists, bear witness to the fact that it has been ruined by mathematics and that in mathematics is the source of a wicked intellect that, while making man the lord of the earth, also makes him the slave of the machine.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on August 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Two essays will help give you an idea of the scope of this immense two tome empire of a book: V. S Pritchett's "A Viennese" and Sven Birkett's "Robert Musil" available in his essay collection Artificial Wilderness(which is a great book on 20th Cent. Europeans). I have never finished this book but reread underlined portions of it now and then to remind me of my first contact and impression of this book which was one of amazement that such a book exists. Once you have met Musil and listened to him speak through his magnificent minded creation Ulrich you will not forget him. Ulrich is like no other character in fiction. You get a cast of odd creations and rigorous Ulrich's Austrian analysis following them all around like some on the spot historian documenting the Austrian Empire in its days of decline and it is all quite entertaining. It does wear you out pretty quick though. His shorter fiction(especially "Blackbird") is good too as well as his one other novel Young Torless but nothing prepares you for this. A more challenging and intelligent entertainment I have not yet found. His diaries are also available, though I can't imagine someone finishing Man Without Qualites and then running out to pick them up.
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