The definition of a soul: “That which crawls away and hides whenever someone mentions algebra.” (Man Without Qualities)

“Robert Musil’s works fascinate me until this day … and what I learned from him was the hardest thing: that one can undertake a work that will take decades, without knowing if one can ever finish it, an undertaking that consists mainly of patience, that assumes an almost inhuman stubbornness …” (Elias Canetti)

Despite the fact that Robert Musil (1880 – 1942) is one of the most important writers of the last century, The Man Without Qualities has been voted most important book of the 20 th century in the German language, there are still more people that have this book on their book-shelves than have actually read it.

September 2003 a new biography of Robert Musil, written by Karl Corino, is published by Rowohlt publishers. It is a beautiful book, including notes, timetable and index more than 2000 pages. Read a review in in the Neue Zuricher Zeitung (In German). Karl Corino himself wrote an article on the hard years of Musils exile in Switzerland (in German too).

Corino spent a good part of his life researching the life and works of Musil. From the introduction it appears that, like The Man Without Qualities, a biography on Musil can never be complete. Notes, letters, diaries were lost during his lifetime, childhood friends refused to talk about Musil out of bitterness, or a psycho-analytic refused to disclose information out of professional discretion, Martha Musil would not release information that could be essential to the biography. There were some good finds too: manuscripts that Martha had sown onto her jacket and were found after her death, or letters that were discovered in a dark, nearly forgotten cellar. It is only fitting that a biography as exhaustive as this one is incomplete.

This site tries to give some background information on the life and works of Robert Musil. This can, among others, be found in a concise biography, essays on his literary works and selections from his diaries. It is neither finished nor complete.

Characteristic for the works of Musil is his irony, the exactness of a mathematician (which he was) the ever changing points of view, the influx of the modern age and technique upon the modern day man. A conscientious use of language to express his thoughts (in his diaries he called himself monsieur le Vivisecteur) are coupled with a encyclopaedic knowledge of culture and criticism thereof and a psychological mystique.

In The Man Without Qualities he tries to portray a modern man who has to live in and cope with a changing world. In contrast to former generations, the modern-day-man cannot afford himself, or be described in terms of ‘qualities’, as Musil calls it, for all the known certainties have been replaced by a greater diversity; there is no longer a single point one can focus on. The German word ‘Eigenschaften’ is less ambiguous: it literally means ‘characteristics’.

In Young Törleß a story of passion and cruelty of youth situated in a military academy is told. A story in which, as critics later stated, the rise of fascism was already present.

Posthumous papers of a Living Author is a collection of contemplations, short stories and drafts he wrote between 1922 and 1935, when he was not working on his largest work of fiction.

On this site you can find a concise biography in five chapters, a timeline, a collection of portraits, a collection of essays on the work of Musil, a bibliography, and of course some excerpts from his major literary works.

Also, excerpts from his diaries can be found on these pages. His diaries form a sort of intellectual playground, in which Musil kept track of all his thoughts, feelings, and literary ideas. The excerpts taken from his diaries reflect his development as a person and as a writer.


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  • Elijah Bell from Columbia, South Carolina, United States says:

    This is the most organized site about this author that i have ever found!

  • Kurt Navratil from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, United States says:

    Thank you for all of this!

  • Richard Burt from Gainesville, Florida, United States says:

    Thank you for putting this together

    • Jerry van Beers from Almere Stad, Provincie Flevoland, Netherlands says:

      You’re welcome!

  • Jeffrey Burke from Wilmington, North Carolina, United States says:

    Do you know if anyone is working on an English translation of the Corino biography? Thank you for your help.

    • Jerry van Beers from Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands says:

      Hello Jeffrey,
      As far as I know there is no intention of publishing a translation of this wonderful biography. It is a thorough and readable book, although some 2000 pages. Another worthwhile book is Herbert Kraft: Musil. Paul Zsnolnay Verlag, 354 pages. But that is in German too….

  • Alfonso Antón from Moya, Canary Islands, Spain says:

    También soy un enamorado en casi todo de Robert Musil. Para mí es una cima de la novela intelectual,incluso me parece más humano,inteligible y agradable que leer que Thomas Mann al que le favoreció ser un referente ético. Hay partes de «El Hombre sin Atributos» que me han hecho apretar los labios de la emoción.

  • manuel schonhorn from Dingmans Ferry, PA, United States says:

    Picked up oddly Capricorn paperback of Man Without Qualities.Even without knowing fully what yeti s going on, I am fascinated by his unique prose and complete ironies of irony. Remarkable, that the end of the Empire at the height of its brilliance brought on its decline and the greatest of fictions;e.g. Joseph Roth.

  • robert frank taylor from Shreveport, LA, United States says:

    dear sir or madam: I hope that the corino biography will be available in English. and, yes, I have read all of musil’s” the man without qualities” published by Alfred a. knopf.

  • connie from Genoa, IL, United States says:

    This is my first encounter with Musil and I loved him as soon as I read his definition of a “soul”. I am hooked and look forward to reading more.

  • Colin Morgan from London, London, United Kingdom says:

    Thank you for this website am re-reading the mwq in my 50’s having first started it in my 20’s and it is a work of genius.

    • Jerry van Beers from Amersfoort, Utrecht, Netherlands says:

      Thank you for your message. Enjoy reading MWQ.
      I have read it a couple of times, and once in German.

  • Raj Rishi from India says:

    I am going to read “The Man Without Qualities”.
    I need power of Robert to finish.

  • August Woolfgang from United Kingdom says:

    Good evening,

    I just wanted to thank you for the excellent resource of all things Robert Musil. I am fond of the writing of William Gass so it was lovely to find an essay by him on Musil.

    Thanks again,


  • Hello!

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    Check it out if you are interested!

    Looking forward to seeing you there!


  • I’ve been reading very slowly “A Man Without Qualities” for almost a year now and am just finishing the Part 1 about the end? of the “campaign’. I underline things like “morality is a matter of imagination”. Alomng witb this also reading “Madame Bovary” (In french) and “The Ambassadors” (in english) and they all seem to have something in common, namely, I guess, LIFE.

  • Musil’s Three Women, which I read for my German class, led me to Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, which I studied for a quarter in English, which in turn got me a doctoral fellowship, which led to a career as a Comparative Literature professor. Thank you, Robert!

  • I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. All the best

  • Thank you so much for this great webite! It is very informative.