What happened to Basini?
The Confusions of Young Törless
"The feeling of not being understood and of not understanding the world is no mere accompaniment of first passion, but…
I have a soft spot for the late Austro-Hungarian Empire, especially their provinces — be it Moravia, Slovenia, or Bukovina. The history of that political and social entity, in the last years of the XIX century and up to the First World War, but also the culture and arts and writing. Science too, I guess, with Freud already working in Vienna. I already read numerous authors of that era and that place, but I would put off reading Robert Musil for later. Maybe because his opus — “The Man Without Qualities” — goes to more than 1500 pages and seems like a difficult task and simply a chore to read it all. Finally, I decided to start with something shorter by him, just to get the feeling of him as a writer. And with every page, I was getting angrier and madder, but I couldn’t put down this rather slim book.
The book is beautifully written, or crafted I should say. It is obvious that every word and sentence and paragraph was agonizingly closely worked on to get it just right. The theme is a run-of-the-mill teenager away in a prep school coming-of-age story. And I didn’t care at all about the main characters — the titular young Törless — a shapeless, confused teen experimenting with sexuality and power, capable of senseless violence and sugary sentiment at the same time. The same about the two other main characters. Reiting — who was bound to live on the fringes of lawful and most likely would die a violent death, either in war or by the hand of someone stronger than him. Beineberg — a prototypical fascist and budding Nazi (long before Hitler, it seems those kinds of people were common in a German-speaking world) prone to philosophical rants to explain his violence. But the last of the main characters — a young Basini — struck a nerve with me. A small kid, a victim of circumstances, some of his doing, some beyond his control. Trying to fit in, to be seen and perceived as someone better than he actually was. Mercilessly abused mentally, physically, and sexually by the other three classmates, while just wanting to be left alone. And the one sentence at the end of the book — that he was expelled, wasn’t enough for me from the author. Expelled, and then what? He went home to his poor mother, and then what? Was he able to put his life back to normal? Was he able to do something with his life? Or was his life already over before even reaching adulthood?
There was no redemption for anyone in this novella. I understand that it was the point the author was making. But some hope, maybe just a tiny sliver? Not in this book. Reading some literary criticism of this book, I found his name rarely comes up. His actions or rather inaction are a springboard for the other three. He is a subject, a patsy, a curiosity to be looked at without much of a second thought. Maybe that is for the better, maybe now, at least in history of literature, he can find some peace in being ignored and finally left alone.