Musil's Young Torless is a novel of troubled adolescence set in a military school, modeled on the one attended by both Musil and Rainer Maria Rilke. It was his first book and was immediately successful. He then abandoned his studies in engineering, logic, and experimental psychology and turned to writing. He was an officer in the Austrian army in World War I, lived in Berlin until the Nazis came to power, and finally settled in Geneva. He also wrote plays, essays, and short stories. The Man without Qualities, Musil's magnum opus, is a novel about the life and history of prewar Austria. It was unfinished when Musil died, though he had labored over the three-volume work for ten years. Encyclopedic in the manner of Proust and Dostoevsky, "it is a wonderful and prolonged fireworks display, a well-peopled comedy of ideas" (V. S. Pritchett)---and a critique of contemporary life. It made Musil's largely posthumous reputation. "Musil's whole scheme prophetically describes the bureaucratic condition of our world, and what can only be called the awful, deadly serious, and self-deceptive love affair of one committee for another" (Pritchett).
Burton Pike is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and German at CUNY. He co-translated Musil's The Man without Qualities and Rilke's novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. His translations have appeared in numerous periodicals.