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A combination of two of Musil's books: Drei Frauen (1924) (Three Women – a collection of three short stories) and Vereinigungen (1911) (Unions – a collection of two short stories). The recent translations of The Man Without Qualities and Musil's Diaries have shown why the Austrian writer is often thought of as Germanic literature's Proust, and this newly translated English A combination of two of Musil's books: Drei Frauen (1924) (Three Women – a collection of three short stories) and Vereinigungen (1911) (Unions – a collection of two short stories). The recent translations of The Man Without Qualities and Musil's Diaries have shown why the Austrian writer is often thought of as Germanic literature's Proust, and this newly translated English version of his five hefty stories demonstrates that the novelist's work in shorter fiction also bears his distinctive iconoclastic, bold signature. Opening the volume are a trio of tales, two of which, "Grigia" and "Tonka," investigate the sexuality of peasant women. Musil's cerebral style seamlessly executes his explorations of the mind/body duality, the ways society and intellectual life affect, but do not eradicate, the truth of the carnal body. His attitudes toward femininity oscillate between fear, disenchantment and adoration, and in stories written over 75 years ago, this range of perception will be tantalizing for readers who value innovative classics. (From Publishers Weekly)


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A combination of two of Musil's books: Drei Frauen (1924) (Three Women – a collection of three short stories) and Vereinigungen (1911) (Unions – a collection of two short stories). The recent translations of The Man Without Qualities and Musil's Diaries have shown why the Austrian writer is often thought of as Germanic literature's Proust, and this newly translated English A combination of two of Musil's books: Drei Frauen (1924) (Three Women – a collection of three short stories) and Vereinigungen (1911) (Unions – a collection of two short stories). The recent translations of The Man Without Qualities and Musil's Diaries have shown why the Austrian writer is often thought of as Germanic literature's Proust, and this newly translated English version of his five hefty stories demonstrates that the novelist's work in shorter fiction also bears his distinctive iconoclastic, bold signature. Opening the volume are a trio of tales, two of which, "Grigia" and "Tonka," investigate the sexuality of peasant women. Musil's cerebral style seamlessly executes his explorations of the mind/body duality, the ways society and intellectual life affect, but do not eradicate, the truth of the carnal body. His attitudes toward femininity oscillate between fear, disenchantment and adoration, and in stories written over 75 years ago, this range of perception will be tantalizing for readers who value innovative classics. (From Publishers Weekly)

30 review for Five Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Regan

    Call it a modern woman’s weltschmerz but I was wary of this volume of short stories, titled as it is Five Women, written by a man in the early 20th c. (Somewhat confusingly this collection presents Musil’s work out of order--Three Women [pub. 1924] came out long after The Perfecting of a Love and The Temptation of Quiet Veronica [pub 1911] ). I was prepared for schlock, for Flaubertian flights of fancy; I prepared to encounter, in other words under-drawn, trivial and disappointing women. I had t Call it a modern woman’s weltschmerz but I was wary of this volume of short stories, titled as it is Five Women, written by a man in the early 20th c. (Somewhat confusingly this collection presents Musil’s work out of order--Three Women [pub. 1924] came out long after The Perfecting of a Love and The Temptation of Quiet Veronica [pub 1911] ). I was prepared for schlock, for Flaubertian flights of fancy; I prepared to encounter, in other words under-drawn, trivial and disappointing women. I had the wrong idea. Musil eschews frivolity altogether. He is impressively disturbing. His stories depict the cloven psyches of utterly serious women and men alike--drawing attention to the basic fact of human opacity: even those closest to us remain unknown and unconquerable entities, as indeed we are also so often unknown to ourselves. Musil provides a lens into the interior world of his characters, revealing them to be generally decent, and yet also profoundly schizotypal: their thoughts cannot stay fixed. Yoked as they are to the vicissitudes of life and relationships, they vacillate, hovering always on the painful (and occasionally erotic) edge of indecision. In Musil’s paranoic universe everyone seems to be trapped in their own heads, increasingly disconnected from “reality.” Interestingly, it is easy to see how Musil may well be the great-grandfather of what Antoine Volodine calls Post-Exoticism. There is quiet but resistant strength in Musil’s various service women, all of whom seem to elude the prying eyes of the men who stand in authority over them. The women, knowing the score, hold themselves forever in reserve. Musil is smart to see that for a disenfranchised women this is a strategy of self-preservation, and is as much an expression of their vulnerability as it is of their power. The men in authority invariably become obsessed with the fragile simplicity of the peasant women, and long to contain them--an impossible task given the imbalance of power. Even when the women submit they do not, and this is what makes his work stand out as surprisingly insightful and proto-feminist.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katia N

    It is actually the two books in one. The first one (in my edition) "The Unions" is written well before the second one "Three women". And it is evident, as "Three women" are better: mastery, sharper and economic but very expressive. However, all five stories in the book, being different, are really insightful, especially for a man writing about woman's feelings. Tonka is a real masterpiece written based upon Musel's personal story. I hope to write more about it in the review of the brilliant colle It is actually the two books in one. The first one (in my edition) "The Unions" is written well before the second one "Three women". And it is evident, as "Three women" are better: mastery, sharper and economic but very expressive. However, all five stories in the book, being different, are really insightful, especially for a man writing about woman's feelings. Tonka is a real masterpiece written based upon Musel's personal story. I hope to write more about it in the review of the brilliant collection My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro when i have more time for myself. One can see the shimmering genius in these 5 stories. It is a pity he did not have a chance to finish "The man without qualities" properly. Powerful as it is it might have been even better...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    the stories kept getting better as i went along, by the time i got to the fourth, i didn't want to finish for fear that the last story wouldn't live up to the trend. i needed not worry. this is now one of my favorites because i can see myself revisiting the stories and still finding new details. the stories kept getting better as i went along, by the time i got to the fourth, i didn't want to finish for fear that the last story wouldn't live up to the trend. i needed not worry. this is now one of my favorites because i can see myself revisiting the stories and still finding new details.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    All the stories are great, but 'The Perfecting of Love' blew me away. An INCREDIBLY unique voice, Musil blends together stream of consciousness with simply some of the most gorgeous imagery I have ever read. His background in science emerges through the dazzling use of geometrical, physiological, and acoustic symbolism and metaphor. Amazing text. All the stories are great, but 'The Perfecting of Love' blew me away. An INCREDIBLY unique voice, Musil blends together stream of consciousness with simply some of the most gorgeous imagery I have ever read. His background in science emerges through the dazzling use of geometrical, physiological, and acoustic symbolism and metaphor. Amazing text.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Godine Publisher & Black Sparrow Press

    "In his descriptions of love affairs and especially in the portraits of women in love, Musil is truly original; in managing scenes of physical love, he has not been approached by any writer of the last fifty years." — V.S. Pritchett "In his descriptions of love affairs and especially in the portraits of women in love, Musil is truly original; in managing scenes of physical love, he has not been approached by any writer of the last fifty years." — V.S. Pritchett

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vel Veeter

    Sometimes when a famous author Five Women by Robert Musil is primarily known for one major work, I go read a smaller work, for a couple of reasons. 1) I almost always like the major work better and well, that makes sense, since it’s the major. 2) I am often worried that when I like a writer, reading their major work will ruin anything else they’ve written. 3) Often the major work is a more challenging text to read. In this case, it’s all three, especially given that Robert Musil’s major work is lik Sometimes when a famous author Five Women by Robert Musil is primarily known for one major work, I go read a smaller work, for a couple of reasons. 1) I almost always like the major work better and well, that makes sense, since it’s the major. 2) I am often worried that when I like a writer, reading their major work will ruin anything else they’ve written. 3) Often the major work is a more challenging text to read. In this case, it’s all three, especially given that Robert Musil’s major work is like 1800 pages long. This small collection of stories, originally two books put together to introduce Robert Musil to a large Anglophone audience, contain five mini-epics about women in relationships with men. I state that in that awkward way because these are not simple constructions around a man and a woman being together. Something about the circumstances of each complicates the overall connection. “Grigia” – In this story, an engineer is working for a mining company far away from his family. As will happen in at least one of the other stories, he is taken in by the peasant charms of a local woman. You can imagine that this leads to some complications with her life. His selfishness or his thoughtlessness, as happens with lots of stories, destroys her life while merely inconveniencing his. “The Lady from Portugal” – The set up for this story is so alien to my American sensibility. It involves a man who works as a man-at-arms/guardsman (but in a vaunted way) for a Bishopric. Unlike his compadres, he is married to a young woman from out of the country. She spends all her days away from him until 12 years in he is injured. As he convalesces she better connects with him. As he is healing, his fate is somewhat uncertain because the bishop dies. The company gets a cat, who then becomes very sick, and becomes a symbol of the dying nature of their enterprise. “Tonka” – Another story in which a promising young man falls for a peasant-like girl from a far off land. In this one, he is Austrian, and a student of great promise, and she is Czech woman. Their subsequent marriage is mostly chaste, and so when she becomes pregnant it begins to complicate matter intensely. “The Perfecting of a Love” – This story is about a “promiscuous” young woman who cannot seem to settle into her love for a man. She is troubled by her own feelings and by her own behavior and so begins a period of soul-searching to figure out what is going on. It sounds like it could be horrid, and rife with sexism, but because it focuses heavily on her sense of wanting stability instead of her internal chaos and doesn’t treat her like a depraved sinner, it works. This marks the change in the collection from the three later stories which are more like central European “tales” to much more psychological stories about the workings of a singular life. “The Temptation of Quiet Veronica” – The collection ends with this story about a woman almost literally torn between desire of the mind versus desire of the body. She is trying to decide between two opposing forces in her body represented by the voices of two lovers she seems to be working through which to marry. But because both are strong and she is not simply trying to rationally decide but to allow the decision to emanate through her body to provide clarity, she is torn. In this collection, there is a kind of fear that captures the hearts of the different men and women, and I would call it the disruption of a teleological view of life. That is, a view of life as a narrative with a beginning a middle and an end. There is a real fear of the disruption of a pre-ordained set of plans. Musil expertly captures how the plans made by a mind are disrupted by those made by the flesh (or heart if you’re being sentimental).

  7. 4 out of 5

    James Henderson

    This is a collection of stories that reminded me of Joyce's great collection, Dubliners. Musil's stories are grouped into two sections, "Three Women" and "Unions". All of the stories are linked by their erotic themes, the nature of love and its relation to knowledge. This is a foreshadowing of one of the themes of his magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities. In this collection the story "Quiet Veronica' explores bestial love, while in "The Perfecting of Love" it is profligate. "Grigia" and "Tonka This is a collection of stories that reminded me of Joyce's great collection, Dubliners. Musil's stories are grouped into two sections, "Three Women" and "Unions". All of the stories are linked by their erotic themes, the nature of love and its relation to knowledge. This is a foreshadowing of one of the themes of his magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities. In this collection the story "Quiet Veronica' explores bestial love, while in "The Perfecting of Love" it is profligate. "Grigia" and "Tonka" present variations on the seduction of a peasant girl, by a man of a higher social class and by a student, respectively. Musil uses these situations to explore deeper in the human consciousness with sex as the central ground of his exploration. I was impressed with the authenticity of of the settings and the integration of peasant life with the themes of love and death. "Love ran ahead like a herald, love was made ready everywhere like a bed freshly made up for the guest, and each living being more gifts of welcome in their eyes. The women could let that be freely seen, but sometimes as one passed a meadow there might be an old peasant there, waving his scythe like Death in person." (p 19) The women in the stories experience love and guilt and the energetic ecstasy of turning points that shake their world. Musil draws fine distinctions like a scientist with a scalpel. The reactions of their lovers, the men with whom they interact are always finely drawn and sometimes deeply incisive. "Volition, cognition, and perception were like a tangled skein. One noticed this only when one tried to find the end of the thread. But perhaps there was some other way of going through the world, other than following the thread of truth? At such moments, when a veneer of coldness separated him from everything, Tonka was more than a fairy-tale: she was almost a visitation.' (p 110) All of the stories have obvious autobiographical elements, ties to the personal life of the author, but what stands out is his creative ability to both imagine these characters' lives and bring his intelligence to bear on their situation. The result provides the reader with a wealth of issues to digest, presented in a prose setting that brings the world of turn-of-the -century Austria alive. This is also an excellent introduction to the writing of one of the twentieth century's premiere novelist of ideas.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    "But no one will blame him for doing neither one nor the other, despite these reasonings of his. For although all such thoughts and feelings may well be justified, nobody nowadays doubts that they are very largely figments of the imagination." "... the tea now flowed, striking the bottom of each cup with a faint tinkle and then remaining poised in mid-air, straw-coloured, a translucent, twisted column of weightless topaz." "And as the wind rose it seemed to her as though his blood were mounting fr "But no one will blame him for doing neither one nor the other, despite these reasonings of his. For although all such thoughts and feelings may well be justified, nobody nowadays doubts that they are very largely figments of the imagination." "... the tea now flowed, striking the bottom of each cup with a faint tinkle and then remaining poised in mid-air, straw-coloured, a translucent, twisted column of weightless topaz." "And as the wind rose it seemed to her as though his blood were mounting from the earth on which they stood, mounting under her skirts, filling her body with stars and chalices, blue and yellow, and there was a light touch as of delicate tendrils and a very still, voluptuous delight such as flowers may feel when they conceive by the wind."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bleak Mouse

    I'm undertaking a project to reread forgotten books I stumble across in my shelves. I do seem to have had rather interesting taste at times. I'm undertaking a project to reread forgotten books I stumble across in my shelves. I do seem to have had rather interesting taste at times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adham

    The Austrian Robert Musil whose novels are well known as being characterized by a subtle psychological element, in these five stories displays another face, one that is by turn extravagant, sensual, mystical, and autobiographical. They’re written as crucial to understand his immense literary influence & significance as Joyce's Dubliners to Ulysses. Opening the volume are a trio of tales, two of which, "Grigia" & "Tonka," investigate the sexuality of peasant women. Musil fearlessly delves into th The Austrian Robert Musil whose novels are well known as being characterized by a subtle psychological element, in these five stories displays another face, one that is by turn extravagant, sensual, mystical, and autobiographical. They’re written as crucial to understand his immense literary influence & significance as Joyce's Dubliners to Ulysses. Opening the volume are a trio of tales, two of which, "Grigia" & "Tonka," investigate the sexuality of peasant women. Musil fearlessly delves into the pervasive notion of lower-class female sexuality as animal, accessible and perverse, even as he faithfully renders such women's limited social agency. These stories are elaborate attempts to use fiction for its true purposes, the discovery and regeneration of the human world and here where’s the uniqueness of this book is materialized, I guess.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Musil's stories are nostalgic essays, just like Proust's In Search of Lost Time. He can spend a good forty pages describing a woman on a train missing her husband and thinking of him as a pathetic cuckold, with little to no narrative pull from sentence to sentence. Okay. I'm sure this broke some ground at the time. I'm sure modernism rocked the worlds of plenty of readers. I'm also sure that I find most of it trivial and meaningless, and most damningly not entertaining. Tell me a story Musil. Tha Musil's stories are nostalgic essays, just like Proust's In Search of Lost Time. He can spend a good forty pages describing a woman on a train missing her husband and thinking of him as a pathetic cuckold, with little to no narrative pull from sentence to sentence. Okay. I'm sure this broke some ground at the time. I'm sure modernism rocked the worlds of plenty of readers. I'm also sure that I find most of it trivial and meaningless, and most damningly not entertaining. Tell me a story Musil. That being said, I did enjoy the first three stories of this collection (which were written later in Musil's life) as opposed to the last two, which indulge in tedious minutiae and leave little impression of the world the characters inhabit. Those first three stories hint at the disappearance of personal identity in modernity in a lovely subtle way. "Grigia" is the gradual withdrawal of a man from his worldly duties and responsibilities, which leads to his ecstatic extinction as an individual. Musil calls this man Homo. Come on. "The Lady from Portugal" is another tale, though more allegorical, from some mythic middle ages Central Europe out of Hesse, that tells of a man losing himself quietly, becoming something he doesn't know at all. The kitten is damn cute. "Tonka" tells of the natural objectification of a woman from a lower class, not the sexual objectification we know, but a sort of two-way mirror, where Tonka is sectioned off from the student, for his pleasure and observation. The collection could have been cut off right there. I'd much rather read Three Women than Five Women let me tell you.

  12. 5 out of 5

    D M

    The first three stories in this collection are marvelous. Musil's writing is poetic, charming, and occasionally obscure. His writing is also unusual, but in a wonderful way. Above all, these first three stories come across as unexpected. My favorite of the lot, "The Lady from Portugal," is so strangely allegorical that I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. The book's preface describes the last two stories (earlier in Musil's output) as being more "opaque," and that word is apt. The writing is complet The first three stories in this collection are marvelous. Musil's writing is poetic, charming, and occasionally obscure. His writing is also unusual, but in a wonderful way. Above all, these first three stories come across as unexpected. My favorite of the lot, "The Lady from Portugal," is so strangely allegorical that I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. The book's preface describes the last two stories (earlier in Musil's output) as being more "opaque," and that word is apt. The writing is completely different (if I recall it is the work of the a different translator, so that too could explain the different voice), with every minute description and emotional state accompanied by a simile or elusive elaboration. Some of the time it is beautiful and sensitive - describing the erotic tension one of Musil's women feels standing mostly naked at her doorway as a man walks past: "But what was for her most mysterious of all was that even out there there was some part of her too: for a ray of light from her candle fell through the narrow key-hole, and surely the trembling of her hand must send it quivering and flickering over the clothes of the passer-by" - but much of it becomes tedious and dense.

  13. 4 out of 5

    AL

    This collection of Musil's short fiction shows the evolving writer discovering his true voice. Plot elements seem to be of less importance, as most of the stories here seem like platforms for exploring the psychology of his characters, a quality that Musil perfects with these stories, making possible the creation his masterwork, "The Man Without Qualities". While I found these stories shoddy and poorly constructed, the strength of Musil's imaginative and passionate writing made the effort worthw This collection of Musil's short fiction shows the evolving writer discovering his true voice. Plot elements seem to be of less importance, as most of the stories here seem like platforms for exploring the psychology of his characters, a quality that Musil perfects with these stories, making possible the creation his masterwork, "The Man Without Qualities". While I found these stories shoddy and poorly constructed, the strength of Musil's imaginative and passionate writing made the effort worthwhile.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    Onerous going and a reminder why I abandoned A Man Without Qualities about 400 pages in. Admittedly, I loved the way he describes the fickleness of human feeling and a gajillion nuances about it, but after the second story it just became tiresome at best and kind of mock worthy at worst. Just not my thang.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katja

    From the collection, I liked "Grigia" the best, a story of a man retreating into a dream life until it is too late to escape. "Tonka" is a fine story too but seems to be more personal and as a result more difficult to grasp (Musil himself had a similar affair), a story about an inexplicable bond and irrational trust an educated man feels towards a simple woman. From the collection, I liked "Grigia" the best, a story of a man retreating into a dream life until it is too late to escape. "Tonka" is a fine story too but seems to be more personal and as a result more difficult to grasp (Musil himself had a similar affair), a story about an inexplicable bond and irrational trust an educated man feels towards a simple woman.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cecile

    Each story in this collection is strikingly different - from a dark Nordic fairy tale to and intricate, breath discerning examination of love, seduction, love, not love, here and not here. Musil travels the inner terrain without ever losing the quality of a particular milliu (sorry, I can't spell this word, goddammit! Each story in this collection is strikingly different - from a dark Nordic fairy tale to and intricate, breath discerning examination of love, seduction, love, not love, here and not here. Musil travels the inner terrain without ever losing the quality of a particular milliu (sorry, I can't spell this word, goddammit!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    read 2 out of the 5 stories: didn't want to meet that many women, I guess! I'm sure I'll give Musil another shot down the line, but these stories read like really fancy smut romance novels. too kinky for me. read 2 out of the 5 stories: didn't want to meet that many women, I guess! I'm sure I'll give Musil another shot down the line, but these stories read like really fancy smut romance novels. too kinky for me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Corman

    He's like a house with locked doors. All he has done is within him, like a gentle music perhaps - but who can hear it? -Robert Musil, Five Women He's like a house with locked doors. All he has done is within him, like a gentle music perhaps - but who can hear it? -Robert Musil, Five Women

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Recommended by Amari. I'm interested in Musil and this sounds intriguing Recommended by Amari. I'm interested in Musil and this sounds intriguing

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ariadna73

    Interesting look at some of the problems of life; using five different women as excuse. I have to confess that I found it a little bit dense; but I really enjoyed some of the stories.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I couldn't finish this--or I suppose I could but felt no need whatsoever. Pales in comparison to the Man Without Qualities. I couldn't finish this--or I suppose I could but felt no need whatsoever. Pales in comparison to the Man Without Qualities.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ana-Catrina

    It really bored me. It was a disappointment after "The Man Without Qualities". It really bored me. It was a disappointment after "The Man Without Qualities".

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tod Wodicka

    Three out of five women are extraordinary. Makes me wish Musil didn't sink so much of his genius into the one big unfinishable thing, maybe spread it around a bit more. Three out of five women are extraordinary. Makes me wish Musil didn't sink so much of his genius into the one big unfinishable thing, maybe spread it around a bit more.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Evan Hughes

    Tonka was my favorite story of the bunch.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan Holmes

    Half read. Unreadably boring, and as far as I remember not at all like his major novels. This degenerated ino a very long story about the impenetrable thoughts of a woman on a train journey.

  26. 4 out of 5

    l.

    I found the first three ones (from male perspectives) more convincing whereas the last two (female perspectives) were a bit overworked imo, but this was a really excellent collection.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Víctor

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dusty

  29. 5 out of 5

    Broombiscuit

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sushavan Dey

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