This book turned out to be something different from what I expected it to be. It doesn’t have much plot – I think I’d like to see some action in my reading material. The blurb describes it as “a philosophical stroll through town and countryside,” I guess I missed those philosophical points being made, because the text struck me as the wandering thoughts of an elderly gentlemen during his daily walk.
The most memorable passage for me was the scene at the tailor’s, which the gentleman visits for a suit fitting:
“As regards the jacket, I clearly feel that it makes me a hunchback, and consequently hideous, deformation with which I can under no circumstances concur. On the contrary, I emphatically protest.
The sleeves suffer from a positively objectionable overabundance of length. The waistcoat is eminently distinguished in that it creates the nasty impression and evokes the unpleasant semblance of my being the bearer of a fat stomach.
The trousers are absolutely disgusting. Their design or scheme inspires me with a genuine feeling of horror. Where this miserable, ridiculous, and terrifyingly idiotic work of trouserly art should possess a certain breadth, it exhibits very straitlaced narrowness, and where it should be narrow, it is more than wide.
Your execution, Herr Dünn [the tailor] is in sum unimaginative. Your work manifests an absence of intelligence. There adheres to such a suit something despicable, deplorable, petty-minded, something inane, fearful, and homemade. The man who made it can assuredly not be counted among men of spirit. Such an utter absence of talent remains in any case regrettable indeed” (55-56).
All that polite diction makes it almost comical, but the “overabundance” of adjectives and adverbs make me feel for the translators. There’s an interesting Introduction by the translator Susan Bernofsky at the beginning. She explains how Robert Walser revised his text considerably after the original version was already translated into English by Christopher Middleton. So Bernofsky sat down with Middleton’s English version and revised it to match Walser’s revised German text. And what did the revisions consist of? Apparently the original was even wordier that this one! Walter decided to get rid of redundant repetitions and ornaments. That makes Middleton a saint in my eyes 😉