Musil, Robert (1880-1942): Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Erstes Buch. FIRST EDITION of the first part The Man Without Qualities, one of the most important and influential modernist novels
Berlin, Ernst Rowohlt, 1930. 8°. Bound in publishers original decorated clothed hardcover (E. R. Weiss). 1074 pages. Previous owners handwritten name in blue ink to inner cover else clean and apart from a couple of pages a bit dog-eared very well preserved
First edition, 1sts printing / 1.-5. Tsd. [Erstausgabe Wilpert-G II, 10].
Rare printing of what would become one of the most important and influential European novels. Musil worked on it for more than twenty years. He started in 1921 and spent the rest of his life writing it. When he died in 1942, the novel was still not completed. Musil’s almost daily preoccupation with writing left his family in dire financial straits. The book brought neither fame nor fortune to him or his family. This was one of the reasons why he felt bitter and unrecognized during the last two decades of his life. The combination of poverty and a multitude of ideas is one of the most striking characteristics of Musil’s biography. His detailed portrait of a decaying fin de siècle world is similar to those of Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers, Karl Kraus’ The Last Days of Mankind or Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. The novel is famous for the irony with which Musil depicts Austrian society shortly before World War I. The story takes place in 1913 in Vienna, the capital of Austria-Hungary, which Musil refers to by the playful term Kakanien. The name Kakanien is derived from the German abbreviation K und K (pronounced “ka oond ka”) for kaiserlich und königlich or “Imperial and Royal”, used to indicate the status of Austria-Hungary as a Dual Monarchy. But ‘kaka’ is also a child’s word for faeces in German, just as in American English, in the Spanish caca and in the Italian cacca. Also, ‘kakos’ is a Greek term for bad borrowed by a number of words in German and English, and Musil uses the expression to symbolise the lack of political, administrative and sentimental coherence in Austria-Hungary. Musil elaborates on the paradoxes of the Kakanian way of life: “By its constitution it was liberal, but the system of government was clerical. The system of government was clerical, but the general attitude to life was liberal. Before the law all citizens were equal, but not everyone, of course, was a citizen. There was a parliament, but it used freedom in such an excessive way that it was kept almost always closed.” (Musil: The Man without Qualities, Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction, Chapter 8 – Kakanien). The story contains approximately twenty characters of bizarre Viennese life, from the beau monde to the demi-monde, including an aristocrat, an army officer, a banker, three bourgeois wives, an intriguing chambermaid, a black pageboy, and last but not least a man who murders a prostitute. The novel is told in the third-person omniscient point of view. MUSIL wrote in an essay called “Defenseless Europe”: “We therefore cannot be dealing with anything other than a misalignment, a mis-synchronized cohabitation of intellect and soul. The problem is not that we have too much intellect and too little soul, but rather that we have too little intellectual understanding of questions pertaining to the soul.” This insight is at the basis of Ulrich’s conflict. This thought also constitutes the starting point of Ulrich’s thoughts. And although he has been conceived as a “man without qualities,” hence as a protagonist who lacks the qualifications for being a man of action, once set in motion by this thought, he throws himself into an adventure that is a completely new one for the protagonist of a novel. He resolves to reactivate his powers of thinking and acting “instead of howling with the wolves.”