She is There

Musil’s metaphors are direct, bold, one might say masculine. These examples are taken from successive essays where Ulrich spends time with Bonadea (the nymphomaniac) and his sister Agathe.

The pure Diotima consoles the sexually afflicted Bonadea (“the ignoble mystery of nymphomania as a kind of female sword of Damocles, which, she said, might hang by a thin tread even over the head of a vestal virgin”) with a kiss. She “kissed her on that unchaste mouth with a heroic effort that would have been enough to make her press her lips on the blood-dripping bristles of a lion’s beard.” (II,957)

Diotima thereby develops a clinical interest in sex, reads the literature, but cannot quite apply the lessons to her men, Arnheim and Tuzzi. “…while her soul with its enigmas eluded her like a fish one tries to hold bare-handed, the suffering seeker was surprised to find plenty of advice in the books of the zeitgeist, once she had decided to deal with her fate from the physical angle, as represented by her husband.” (Ii,957)

Bonadea finds herself adopting Ulrich’s analytical style, though not with ease. “To get a really rapturous response from the love partner, the partner must be respected as an equal and not just as a will-less extension of oneself,” she went on, caught up in her mentor’s mode of expression like someone sliding helplessly and anxiously across a polished surface, carried along by his own momentum.” (II,962)

Bonadea has had a chance to mix with powerful men at Diotima’s salon and is surprised that she did so without the usual “hurricane” of glandular disturbance. ” And she thought of all the other famous men she had recently me, without even remembering whether they had short legs or long ones, were fat or lean, for all she saw in them was the radiance of their celebrity rounded out by a vague physical mass, much as the delicate frame of a young roast pigeon is given substance by a solid mass of herb stuffing.” (II,965)

Agathe has finally arrived at Ulrich’s home. He is forced to see his hodge-podge interior through her eyes and is embarrassed. He has always experience feminine company with ironical detachment. This is different and unsettling. He experiences her presence in an almost wordless, non-metaphorical way.

But in the midst of all this activity, he could only think, incessantly, that for his whole life, and up to a few hours ago, he had lived alone. And Agathe was here. This little sentence, “Agathe is here now,” repeated itself in waves, like the astonishment of a boy who has received a new plaything; there was something mind-numbing about it and, on the other hand, a quite overwhelming sense of presence too, all of which expressed itself again and again in the words: Agathe is here now. (II,973)

[Helping Agathe with her dress] Bending over close to the moving, delicate, yet full and fresh skin of her shoulders, intent upon the unaccustomed task, which raised a flush on his brow, Ulrich felt himself lapped by a pleasing sensation not easily put into words, unless one might say that his body was equally affected by having a woman and yet not having a woman so close to him; or one could just as easily have said that though he was unquestionably standing there in his own shoes, he nevertheless felt drawn out of himself and over to her as though he had been given a second, far more beautiful, body for his own.

This was why the first thing he said to his sister when he had straightened up again was: “Now I know what your are: you are my self-love!” It may have sounded odd, but it really expressed what it was that moved him so. “In a sense,” he explained, “I’ve always lacked the right sort of love for myself that others seem to have in abundance. And now,” he added, “by some mistake or by fate, it has been embodied in you instead of myself!”

It was his first attempt that evening to pass a verdict on the meaning of his sister’s arrival. (II,975)


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