In the pleasure he takes in picking away at himself he has something of Dostoevsky's Underground Man and, behind him, of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau of the Confessions. But--as Walser's first French translator, Marthe Robert, pointed out--there is in Jakob, too, something of the hero of the traditional German folk tale, of the lad who braves the castle of the giant and triumphs against all odds. Franz Kafka, early in his career, admired Walser's work Max Brod records with what delight Kafka would read Walser's humorous sketches aloud. Barnabas and Jeremias, Surveyor K. Description The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature.
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Jakob von Gunten. Jakob von Gunten is a first-person account told by its titular protagonist, a young man of noble background who runs off from home and decides to spend the rest of his life serving others.
To this end, he enrols at the Benjamenta Institute, a school for servants. Walser based the novel on his own experiences: upon arriving in Berlin in he attended a school for servants, and served as a butler the following winter.
Jakob von Gunten comes from a well-off family. His father has a car and horse at his disposal and his mother has her own box at the theatre. His brother Johann is a well-known, established artist, who cultivates a bourgeois lifestyle and moves in elite circles. Jakob runs away from home in order to escape the overbearing shadow of his father, an alderman. He joins a school for servants, situated on one floor at the rear of a house in Berlin.
The headmaster of the institute is Herr Benjamenta. There are in fact more teachers, but they are either absent or said to be fast asleep. The pupils are trained as servants with the aim of securing a job. The pupils willingly let themselves be treated like children, drilled and pushed hard. A principle of the Institute is: "Little, but thoroughly". They are taught how to deal with people in social situations through theory and role-play.
As a new pupil Jakob is tested by the headmaster. At first he rebels, walks into his office and demands his money back, resenting the poor quality of the education. But then he acquiesces and ends his attempts at revolution. Jakob does not feel inferior. On the contrary, he has ample self-confidence and considers himself the brightest among his classmates.
Jakob considers himself conceited and arrogant. His pride is slightly injured and Jakob presumes that he is being dumbed down by the institute. He knows in any case that he is being made to look small. The headmaster confesses to Jakob that he has a fondness for him which he can no longer control. He perceives something special in Jakob. The headmaster has no explanation for this. Jakob is also surprised, but knows how to act around superiors.
He wisely says nothing in reply — even when the headmaster confesses his love for him. When Jakob is supposed to become the friend and confidant of the headmaster the pupil is hesitant. Jakob does not get a job through the headmaster because the headmaster, already over 40, loves someone for the first time and doesn't want to let him go.
But then Jakob becomes afraid; the headmaster wants to choke him. Later, however, the headmaster wants to kiss Jakob. Outraged, the splendid young boy refuses. Frau Benjamenta tells Jakob she is going to die. Herr Benjamenta and Jakob sit in vigil over her dead body before she is taken away. The school has been failing for a long time, with a falling intake of pupils.
Jakob agrees to pack up and go travelling with Herr Benjamenta. It was later reprinted in his Inner Workings: Literary Essays, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. November Forum for World Literature Studies. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 29 May Authority control GND : Categories : novels Swiss novels Fiction set in Novels set in Berlin Novels set in schools. Hidden categories: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list CS1: long volume value Use dmy dates from July All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from March Wikipedia articles with GND identifiers.
Jakob von Gunten
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Still Small Voice
Jakob Von Gunten. Robert Walser. The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature. Largely self-taught and altogether indifferent to worldly success, Walser wrote a range of short stories, essays, as well as four novels, of which Jakob von Gunten is widely recognized as the finest. The book is a young man's inquisitive and irreverent account of life in what turns out to be the most uncanny of schools. It is the work of an outsider artist, a writer of uncompromising originality and disconcerting humor, whose beautiful sentences have the simplicity and strangeness of a painting by Henri Rousseau.
Robert Walser: 'Jakob von Gunten'
Jakob von Gunten. Jakob von Gunten is a first-person account told by its titular protagonist, a young man of noble background who runs off from home and decides to spend the rest of his life serving others. To this end, he enrols at the Benjamenta Institute, a school for servants. Walser based the novel on his own experiences: upon arriving in Berlin in he attended a school for servants, and served as a butler the following winter. Jakob von Gunten comes from a well-off family. His father has a car and horse at his disposal and his mother has her own box at the theatre. His brother Johann is a well-known, established artist, who cultivates a bourgeois lifestyle and moves in elite circles.
The up-and-coming young novelist of the period before the First World War, capable of producing three novels in as many years, turned to shorter forms, and saw his audience and his income dwindle gradually through the war years and the nineteen-twenties. Once a fixture of smart Berlin society, Walser exchanged the world of salons for a series of tiny furnished rooms and, finally, in , a mental institution. Even his handwriting diminished; he was able to squeeze a last novel—a short one, but still—onto just twenty-four sides of octavo-size paper. The incredible shrinking writer is a major twentieth-century prose artist who, for all that the modern world seems to have passed him by, fulfills the modern criterion: he sounds like nobody else. His narrators are all ostensibly humble, courteous, and cheerful; the puzzle lies in deciding where they are speaking in earnest and where ironically.