cover image Agathe, or The Forgotten Sister

Agathe, or The Forgotten Sister

Robert Musil, trans. from the German by Joel Agee. New York Review Books, $18.95 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-1-68137-383-6

In this intriguing amendment to a towering work of modernism, Agee reorganizes the second volume of Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, left unfinished at the time of Musil’s death in 1942. The result, which incorporates the author’s notes and never-before-published material, is this volume. Agee focuses on Agathe, the younger sister of the book’s protagonist, the indolent mathematician Ulrich, as they embark on a quasi-incestuous relationship in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The manic Agathe’s marriage to boorish professor Hagauer is on the rocks, and, following the death of her father, Agathe and Ulrich meet to settle his accounts and quickly embark on a series of “holy conversations,” covering everything from morality to love. They begin to function as one, “symmetrical creatures of Nature’s whim,” even dressing similarly as “twins by choice.” But Agathe becomes overwhelmed by her feelings for her brother and the machinations of the vengeful Hargauer, and considers suicide, only to be rescued by August Lindner, a schoolteacher of stringent principles, almost Ulrich’s opposite in temperament, creating an unspoken love triangle. As a new approach to Musil’s masterpiece, it shouldn’t be read in place of the original text, but it does make for an interesting curio. (Dec.)