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The Man Without Qualities: Volume I

(The Man Without Qualities #1)

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  2,590 ratings  ·  186 reviews
A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails
Paperback, 725 pages
Published December 9th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1930)
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Lisa The English translation has been published in a two-volume set and a three-volume set. So the length of volume one depends on which set your…moreThe English translation has been published in a two-volume set and a three-volume set. So the length of volume one depends on which set your particular volume one belongs to. (less)

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Apr 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Amongst the most influential and powerful fictions that I have read are those born from the Austro-Germanic experience amidst the cadaverous ruins of the First World War: Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, and now Robert Musil. One of the biggest regrets in my reading life is not having become fluent in German—although the English translators have done a magnificent job of bringing this epoch of profound reflection and soaring imagination to the English language, I can only ...more
Lee Klein
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Among the very best I've read. No question. Up there shining a bright light in my own little personal canonical firmament. The ideal book of ideas. Fans of towering literary artistry will love this. Recommended for fans of Infinite Jest -- there's even a riff about what it means when a tennis player is called a genius. Somewhere in Extinction, Bernhard notes that Musil is the best prose writer ever in German. Fantastically drawn characters with incomparable depth thanks to such clear, fluid, ...more
Vit Babenco
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The first volume of The Man Without Qualities comprises two parts: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudoreality Prevails and those consist of one hundred and twenty three short chapters. And every chapter reads as a vivid fable or an acrid anecdote. And together these particolored tiles constitute a variegated mosaic of a brilliant farce which shows a wholeness of a complete book.
What the novel’s like?
“But do you know what it's like? It's like traveling second class in Galicia and picking up crab
Stephen P
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It happens after the transfer. The tedium, then the lurking state of thought-rush, irretrievable perceptions. It may be for three minutes or many hours. I no longer live in time. I am alone in the small cottage. It isn't that I have anything to prove. Simply, I want to be alone with my thoughts. The absence of the weight of another person's unspoken ideas became important. Oppression has become my medium.
The transfer occurs in stages. It must be thought out first. Each stage etched into the
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A quite remarkable book which, now having read, has immediately become a noticable portion of the furniture of my mind... A fine intoduction (for me) to the modernist ethic and the modernist aesthetic... which I've been seeking to understand (with quite some difficulty) for the past two-plus years.

All the secondary literature I've read on Modernism was essentially worthless. Since there is no thread, there really is no thesis; and hence, no real way to approach it via "scholarship". One simply
David Katzman
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of highly intellectual lit, don't mind minimal plot, and have significant attention spans
The Man Without Qualities is a Modernist masterpiece. An expansive book of ideas yet an intimate view into Austrian society, circa 1913. The writing (in translation from German) is erudite and sophisticated. The view into the psychology of the numerous characters is rich and insightful. The overall critique of both Austrian and human civilization is profound and sharp. There are intimations of Proust here but the language less elaborate. I'm also reminded of Fernando Passoa and The Book of ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
In the Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil created the perfect corporate everyman, a Dilbert for the early 20th C in the crumbling Austro-Hungarian empire. With an incredibly precise wit and penetrating insight, his protagonist Ulrich - who reminded me of Castorp in The Magic Mountain - has no personality but rather derives it from the freaks around him. Nymphomaniacs, neurotics - all the manifestations of a corrupt society consuming itself. A large part of the book is dedicated to the ...more
Tim Edison
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Rarely have I read a book, such as this, where I am not completely certain what the book is about but am still utterly absorbed by it. The title of the book provides the most accurate summary. The first in a trilogy, it really is about "A Man Without Qualities" who is also known as Ulrich.

"It is not difficult to give a description about this thirty-two-year-old man, Ulrich, in general outline, even though all he knew about himself was that he was as far from all the qualities as he was near
Aug 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with a long attention span
Endlessly awesome. Practically plotless and hence captures the imagination purely through its profundity of ideas. The possibilites that Musil postulates through the character of Ulrich are awe-inspiring--his attack on every single way we live our lives is shocking, yet completely reasonable--but ultimately, the abstractness of these solutions cannot uphold the corporeality of an actual human life, and despite the apparent overused and scarred nature of every path that seems to stretch out ...more
Eddie Watkins
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: austrian-fiction
Master of the elaborate and perfectly apt simile and an intellectual ironic comic of the highest order, I salute you Robert Musil, you AND your rarefied but highly readable novel composed of hundreds if not thousands of well-engineered lines worthy of weeklong pondering each. It may make your head swim but it'll also teach your brain how to breathe.
There's a lot to unpack here...

I guess the first thing I would compare The Man Without Qualities to is The Magic Mountain, and it likewise features people arguing about ideas in German, but it really is a different beast. Rather than a mountain refuge, Musil sets his novel in glittering prewar Vienna, with a sensational tabloid murder providing much of the background, and at its center is an indifferent, skeptical, directionless, but pretty damn bright guy who tries to figure shit out, using the
Oct 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I finally finished volume 1 of this book on the first day of 2009. 730 pages, and I'm not entirely sure I could explain what, if anything, happens. Clearly, not many contemporary readers would enjoy the kind of experience this entails. My description below, written back in the summer of 2007 when I started reading it, pretty much holds. I will now add volume 2 to my "currently reading." Stay tuned for the review, which will probably be forthcoming somewhere around 2015...

My original review
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-1001
I could have given this five stars; it is a wonderful novel but War and Peace didn't end with Napoleon planning to conquer Moscow. Vol. II has 1200+ unpublished in his lifetime pages. Set in Vienna on the eve of WW I, the book is 51% novel and 49% essay. How to be "yourself" in the modern complicated mass produced world is the still timely search of the book's main character.
Loring Wirbel
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Perhaps it isn't fair to review this work at the end of Vol. 1, but since Goodreads separates the two volumes, I'll give a midway assessment of the story up to now. Some reviewers rave about Musil as the missing link between Proust and Joyce, or Proust and Pynchon. I'm not so sure he's engaging enough to be considered Pynchon-on-the-Danube, but he's certainly more fun to read than Proust. In fact, this book seems very modernist for something written in the 1930s.

Our protagonist, Ulrich, 'The
Scott Gates
Aug 14, 2010 rated it did not like it
This is the type of novel in which the characters like to lecture each other, and the narrator (the worst character) is constantly lecturing you. Seldom is a subject mentioned for which the narrator doesn’t produce an exasperating mini-lesson. He wants to show us how things really are. There is an unpleasant (and unjustified) presumption of superiority behind such a tendency. The main character, the pouty Ulrich, is kind of like a sad replay of the “nihilist” in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, who ...more
Leah Kalmanson
Jul 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Some books suck me in and I can't put them down until I've finished. Other books hang over my head like an incomplete homework assignment. This one started out like homework, but ended up as addicting as any great story. I believe I read this book over the course of a year and a half, picking it up and putting it down. The story didn't grab me at first, but I kept coming back for the great one-liners. This may be one of the most quotable novels I've ever read. In any case, it's a slow build, but ...more
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It seemed to Ulrich that with the beginning of his adult life a general lull had set in, a gradual running down, in spite of occasional eddies of energy that came and went, to an ever more listless, erratic rhythm. It was very hard to say what this change consisted of. Were there suddenly fewer great men? Far from it! And besides, they don't matter; the greatness of an era does not depend on them. The intellectually lackluster 1860s and 1880s, for instance, could no more prevent the rise of a ...more
Luís C.
The Emperor of Austria-Hungary will soon celebrate his seventieth birthday. The occasion is perfect to assert the identity of the empire in Europe and compete with the German patriotism that develops. All intellectual gratin is summoned to define the actions to take in the famous "Austrian year" that must be remembered. Among them Ulrich, boosted by his father who despaired to see him climb the social ladder, dubbed the "man without qualities" through knowledge for its total lack of commitment ...more
J.W.D. Nicolello
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Pseudoreality prevails__________________

I've been going back and forth with this first volume for about five years. It was not supposed to be that way although it is. I kept buying it, renting it from libraries, borrowing copies from other Musil admirers, reading it everywhere from broken down buses in Denver blizzards, the Brown Jug in San Francisco after a long night out while dawn crept in, on the plane to Oakland, in the particularly grotesque lower Manhattan DMV, but I always ended up
Ade Bailey
May 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
There are different kinds of funny. The category this book fits into includes having a smile on the face throughout, bursts of hilarity, and that serious use of comedy which reveals the absurdity of human behaviour. Written un the context of thickening fascist Europe, it's a remarkable mirror on life today. So easily the lusts of genitals, power and cruelty blend seamlessly with lofty idealisms. Entire schools of philosophy are ridiculed gently, or more accurately what is ridiculed is the ...more
Oct 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The first volume of Robert Musil's magnificent opus `The Man Without Qualities,' is brilliant and intricate Prussian `a la recherche du temps perdu,' though without Proust's keen appreciation of the arts. This is an epic from the mind of a mathematician and a strict analytic philosopher who becomes ensconced in the aristocracy of Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years of its final disintegration leading up to the first World War. Ulrich is the man without qualities, the sharp minded observer and ...more
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It’s a simple statement; a distinguishing quality of literature is its capacity to make you think and feel. And with this, Volume 1 of The Man Without Qualities, I thought and felt, greatly, insanely, and perhaps more than any before it.
Sep 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
It is only occasionally tedious. It is often very funny. Maybe when I finish it, I can live without reading Joyce and Proust.
Josh Friedlander
Pretty much every page has lines like this:
In the country, he thought, the gods still come to people. A man matters, his experiences matter, but in the city, where experiences come by the thousands, we can no longer relate them to ourselves; and this is of course the beginning of life’s notorious turning into abstraction.

Which in theory is awesome. Much like The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann was a big Musil fan), this is a novel of ideas, where the characters are mostly just props who represent
Simon Robs
Dec 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Early on in this book an exchange between some central characters discussing "Ulrich" ostensibly "The Man Without Qualities."

"Walter was stymied; he groped, wavered. Suddenly he burst out: 'He's a man without qualities!'
What is that?" Clarisse asked, giggling.
Nothing. That's just it, it's nothing."

"Consider what he's like: He always knows what to do. He knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. he can put his mind to any question anytime. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded,
C. Quabela
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have read some comments to the effect that Musil is not comparable to either Proust or Joyce. This is true. But only to the extent that Joyce and Proust are not comparable to each other either. Their common bond though is of course their incredible perspicacity and insight into the consequences of the modern age before anyone really knew what to make of it. Joyce gives us a perspective from the bottom of society, Proust from the bourgeoisie/middle class, and Musil from the upper (or at least ...more
Nov 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm only about two hundred pages in, but this is without question one of the best books I've ever read. The author's sense of irony and keen, penetrating insight into things in general are delightful and uncanny. There are few authors whose voices have spoken to me this directly--in fact Nabokov's the only one who comes to mind at the moment.

I keep finding observations in this book that could easily be transposed to 2009 America, with only the names changed--points Musil makes about the popular
Charles Puskas
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Slow reading, but worth it. Similar to Kafka's The Castle dealing with bureacracy. Focus on bourgeiose class and royalists planning to celebrate the 50th year of Emperor Franz Joseph's reign of the Austro-Hungarian War as Europe soon enters the Great War, irony, saracasm, and emerging anarchist groups with iron-willed reaction by the military. The author/narrator is caught up in the midst of all this awkwardedness.
Jul 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Someone who wants to get lost for a few months.
Shelves: fiction
It's very long, and the characters generally refuse to do anything or to change in any way. Still this is as good as it gets for me... every page contains a great idea, or image, or a perfect sentence. Often all three coexist. The second volume is OK, but not really necessary.
Sep 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This is an incredible series, one worth reading more than once. The characters are so unique and beautifully drawn. The language is lovely and the perspective on this time in history is very interesting.
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Austrian writer.

He graduated military boarding school at Eisenstadt (1892-1894) and then Hranice, in that time also known as Mährisch Weißkirchen, (1894-1897). These school experiences are reflected in his first novel - The confusions of young Törless.

He served in army during The First World War. When Austria became a part of the Third Reich in 1938, Musil left for exile in Switzerland, where he

Other books in the series

The Man Without Qualities (3 books)
  • The Man Without Qualities: Vol. 2
  • The Man Without Qualities: Vol 3
“…. by the time they have reached the middle of their life’s journey, few people remember how they have managed to arrive at themselves, at their amusements, their point of view, their wife, character, occupation and successes, but they cannot help feeling that not much is likely to change anymore. It might even be asserted that they have been cheated, for one can nowhere discover any sufficient reason for everything’s coming about as it has. It might just have well as turned out differently. The events of people’s lives have, after all, only to the last degree originated in them, having generally depended on all sorts of circumstances such as the moods, the life or death of quite different people, and have, as it were, only at the given point of time come hurrying towards them” 58 likes
“An impractical man--which he not only seems to be, but really is--will always be unreliable and unpredictable in his dealings with others. He will engage in actions that mean something else to him than to others, but he is at peace with himself about everything as long as he can make it all come together in a fine idea.” 27 likes
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