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The Man Without Qualities (2 volume set) Hardcover – Box set, April 4, 1995

18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

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.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Unfinished novel by Robert Musil, published as Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften in three installments in 1930, 1933, and 1943. Musil's sprawling masterpiece was his life's work. On the surface a witty, urbane portrait of life in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the novel is also a tragic farce that gives account of the slow collapse of a society into anarchy and chaos and an indictment of a society that embraced fascism. One of the masterpieces of the age, the book ironically dissects modern uncertainty, sham values, and political folly. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1774 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (April 4, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394510526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394510521
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Matt on December 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an undeniably great novel, that despite its shortcomings stands head and shoulders above pretty much anything around. It attempts to explore the great themes - life and death, madness and sanity, objectivity and subjectivity - against the decay of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Being written in the 1930s about the pre-war years it is obviously knowing and didactic, but also very funny, primarily at the expense of rather foolish and pretensious toffs. While the main character Ulrich may vere towards the offensive in his lofty detachment, Musil endows him with such intelligence and rigour, with such unfeasible articulacy, that the reader can only be impressed. There is a snooty tendency to bracket Musil with Proust and Joyce, but this arises primarily from a shared half of the century, prolixity and apparent difficulty. Personally, I find Musil the least taxing of the three because his style is beautifully clear and focused. If,like me, you are largely unacquainted with the intricacies of modernist philosophy but are attracted by the novel of ideas then the MWQ is an incredibly invigorating reading experience. Musil is more approachable than Thomas Mann (compare MWQ to Mann's 'Doctor Faustus') and his exploration of ideas is clearer in his fiction than in his essays, because many of the ideas are delineated through discussion. Some readers may find the style unappeallingly scientific and cold, but, for what it's worth, I also love writers like John Cowper Powys, stylistically the antithesis of Musil.Read more ›
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Michael Owsowitz on June 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I've only gotten through volume l and part of volume ll (so far). I agree that I find it incredible that Musil is not as well known as Proust...he's his equal as a writer and in my opinion a much finer thinker. The brilliance of the book is in the extended introspections rather than the events...the multi-page musings on the human condition illustrate the timeless aspects of what we conceitedly think of as our "post-modern" psychic quandry. In common with Proust we are inside the protagonist's head, but in the third rather than first person, which gives the experience a different feel...we're a little outside at the same time. It's a ghostlier sort of connection, but I think equally as immediate. We walk the streets of Vienna as vividly as Chambray, but, perhaps Ullrich's less romantic nature, I find him a better correspondent. His perceptions are intellectual rather than the sensual, and yet, experiencing that intellect is a sensual experience for the reader (at least for this one!)
A note: I do not think the recent translation compares to the original English may read more breezily, but my brief comparison suggests that it loses a LOT of subtlety in trying to achieve a more colloquial, effortless, less dated narrative voice. For instance, a passage in the original English translation reading "knowledge was beginning to become unfashionable" is translated in the new as "science became outdated". Two totally different meanings, and the first is clearly closer, given the context..(in which Musil is waxing sarcastic about a silly but dangerous bourgeois "believing" fad - spookily portentious of the Hitler era). An incredibly absorbing psychological novel...if your reading time is precious...nothing will reward more deeply or stay with you longer.
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful By on January 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Of all the great European novelists of the first third of the century -- Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Knut Hamsun, Herman Hesse -- Robert Musil is far and away the least read; and yet he's as shapely as Gibbon, as mordant as Voltaire, as witty as Oscar Wilde and as indecent as Arthur Schnitzler, a fellow Viennese writer who gets more attention. "The Man Without Qualities" is an extraordinary amalgam of the formidable, the delicious and the unfinished; and no doubt each of these attributes is in some measure dissuasive.
If we take it that the characteristics of 20th-century life are fatuity, doubt and confusion; the "barbaric fragmentation" of the self, where "impersonal matters . . . go into the making of personal happenings in a way that for the present eludes description"; a crisis of individual identity and collective purpose -- then it is Musil's astonishing achievement to make a comedy of all this.
The book begins with a baroque meteorological description; its first action is a car accident; the hero is first seen looking out of a window, stopwatch in hand, conducting a statistical survey of passing traffic. Can there be any doubt that it is a prophetic book about our world? Musil is us. The world of "global Austria" in 1913 and "the Parallel Action" -- the plan, in the novel, to claim 1918 for the jubilee celebrating the 70th year of the reign of the Emperor Francis Joseph before the Germans get it for Kaiser Wilhelm's 30th, made nonsense of by the intervention of World War I -- is our world of the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction and other fatuous schemes.
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