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The Man Without Qualities


It is 1913, and Viennese high society is determined to find an appropriate way of celebrating the seventieth jubilee of the accession of Emperor Franz Josef. But as the aristocracy tries to salvage something illustrious out of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the ordinary Viennese world is beginning to show signs of more serious rebellion. Caught in the middle of this social labyrinth is Ulrich: youngish, rich, an ex-soldier, seducer and scientist.

Unable to deceive himself that the jumble of attributes and values that his world has bestowed on him amounts to anything so innate as a 'character', he is effectively a man 'without qualities', a brilliant, detached observer of the spinning, racing society around him. Part satire, part visionary epic, part intellectual tour de force, The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil is a work of immeasurable importance.

Writing about the Wilkins-Pike translation in The New York Times,  Michael Hoffmann wrote "Of all the great European novelists of the first third of the century – Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf – 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."

Writing about Musil in The New Criterion, Roger Kimball wrote, "Whatever else one can say about it, The Man Without Qualities stands as one of the great modern works of satire."[10]

Robert McCrum ranked it one of the top 10 books of the 20th century: "This is a meditation on the plight of the little man lost in a great machine. One of Europe's unquestioned 20th-century masterpieces."

The Man Without Qualities is one of the towering achievements of the European novel ― Observer

I would recommend Sophie Wilkins' translation as a conscientious attempt to give to the English reader a novel which is compared to The Remembrance of Things Past and Ulysses ― The Times

Immensely rich and therapeutic, bristling with wit and a sly humour ― Sunday Telegraph

At last, at last - the fully fleshed arrival in English of the third member of the trinity in twentieth-century fiction, complementing Ulysses and The Remembrance of Things Past . . . This last-waltz novel is amazingly contemporary ― Wall Street Journal

There is scarcely a page that does not provoke new thoughts or offer new insights, not a chapter that, even read on its own, does not prove stimulating ― Scotsman


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