The Confusions of Young Törless  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Confusions of Young Törless (German original title: Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß), the title of the novel is sometimes translated as Young Törless or Young Torless, is the literary debut of the Austrian novelist and essayist Robert Musil, first published in 1906.

Plot introduction

Musil's novel is ostensibly a Bildungsroman, a story of a young disoriented man searching for moral values in society and their meaning for him.

The expressionistic novel, based on Musil's personal experiences at a military boarding school in Hranice (in Austria-Hungary, now in the Czech Republic)--and written according to Musil "because of boredom"--started his literary career. In later life, however, Musil denied that the novel was about youthful experiences of his own. Due to its explicit sexual content, the novel at first caused a scandal among the reading public and the authorities of Austria-Hungary.

Later, various indications of fascism were found in its text, including the characters of Beineberg and Reiting, who seem to be orderly pupils by day but shamelessly abuse their classmate psychologically, physically and sexually by night.

In 1966 German director Volker Schlöndorff made the film Der junge Törless based on the novel.

Plot summary

Three cadets of an Austrian military boarding school, Reiting, Beineberg and Törless, catch their classmate Basini stealing money from one of the three and decide to punish him themselves instead of turning him in to the school authorities. They start abusing him, first physically and then psychologically and sexually, while also blackmailing him by threatening to denounce him. Their abusive treatment of Basini becomes openly sexual and increasingly sadistic; nevertheless, he endures all the torture even when, after being deprived of any dignity, he is discredited by the entire class.

Törless's moral and sexual confusion leads him to join Beineberg's and Reiting's degradation of Basini, although his reasons are neither sexual nor psychological, as in the case of his accomplices. Törless observes and takes part in the torture of Basini to understand the soul of man; in most of his actions he is a passive observer (comparable to Ulrich in Musil's The Man Without Qualities) analysing his classmates' behaviour and Basini's facing of his own degradation; he lets his classmates abuse Basini, as well as making Basini sleep with him. When the torment becomes unbearable, Törless advises Basini to turn himself in to the headmaster.

An investigation starts, but the only party to be found guilty is Basini. (In this respect the novel adheres to the 'rules' for stories about bullying at school: the victim has to take the blame and the bullies go unpunished). Törless refuses to stay in such company and asks his parents to take him home.

Other subplots include Törless's experience with the local prostitute Božena, his encounter with his mathematics teacher, and his analysis of his parents' attitudes toward the world.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Confusions of Young Törless" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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