Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Always scribble, scribble, scribble!

Since this blog began, some people have asked whether its author has actually read the entire novel after which it is named. I can only plead that the wonderful novel The Man Without Qualities spreads itself out like Greenland on the map! I have read the entireties of both English translations of this great work. Indeed, my spouse says it was a main reason for the marriage. The book in either translation is wonderful, almost miraculous.

But the novel never ends. For that matter, its first chapter is titled "A Sort of Beginning." My namesake is said to have mused that he intended to finish it with a comma.

Instead, it sort of ends in a great and increasingly tentative and unknowable wilderness of drafts, notes, inspired excerpts and alternative versions. Much of this material has never been translated from the original German, which, alas, I do not read.

As noted, there are two translations. The first translation appears as three volumes, while the second, which includes vastly more material than the first, is presented in two Brobdingnagian tomes which bring to mind the comments of William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, upon receiving the second volume of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from its author in 1781: "Another damned, thick, square, book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?"

Unlike the Proust effort with which it is sometimes compared, The Man Without Qualities does not dwell all that much on memory. This might or might not be taken as a plus. As Oscar Wilde expressed it in The Importance of Being Earnest:

I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn't write them down, I should probably forget all about them.
Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.
Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn't possibly have happened. I believe that Memory is responsible for nearly all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.
Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.

Where Cecily speaks of a diary perhaps we may be allowed to refer to a blog.

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