A review of
by Robert Walser
In a brief appreciation of Robert Walser published in the fall of 1929, the German critic Walter Benjamin noted, with customary owlishness, that the bright air of convalescence threads its way through the Swiss writer’s work. When characters in Walser’s second novel, The Assistant (1908), take ill, it’s apparent that sickness is a portal to enhancement. In their convalescent state, nerves are becalmed, countenances beautified, and a respite from hurried lives is temporarily in order. Much of the strain that’s placed on the adults in this book arises from their demand that life be wreathed with finery and dignity while, regrettably, maintaining a toehold in society frequently requires the obverse.
Although Walser satirizes this quintessential predicament of the bourgeoisie, there is a delicacy to his activity. One gathers that the author’s reproof against the foibles of keeping up appearances is offset by his awareness that a reprieve from struggle is merely that. Considering the extraordinary solicitude he displays towards his characters (who retain their humanity, even when their actions are unjust), it’s appropriate that the novel begins with a stroke of serendipity.
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