Authors: Hermann Broch
Hermann Broch (1886–1951) was born in Vienna, where he trained as an engineer and studied philosophy and mathematics. He gradually increased his involvement in the intellectual life of Vienna, becoming acquainted with Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, and Robert Musil, among others.
was his first major work. In 1938, he was imprisoned as a subversive by the Nazis, but was freed and fled to the United States. In the years before his death, he was researching mass psychology at Yale University.
The Death of Virgil
originally appeared in 1945; his last major novel,
, was published in 1950.
The Death of Virgil
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.,
New York, in
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Broch, Hermann, 1886–1951.
The sleepwalkers : a trilogy / by Hermann Broch ; translated from the German by Willa and Edwin Muir.—1st Vintage International ed.
the year 1888 Herr von Pasenow was seventy, and there were people who felt an extraordinary and inexplicable repulsion when they saw him coming towards them in the streets of Berlin, indeed, who in their dislike of him actually maintained that he must be an evil old man. Small, but well made, neither a shrivelled ancient nor a pot-belly, he was extraordinarily well proportioned, and the top-hat which he always sported in Berlin did not look in the least ridiculous on him. He wore Kaiser Wilhelm I. whiskers, but cut somewhat shorter, and on his cheeks there was none of that white fluff which gave the Emperor his affable appearance; even his hair, which had scarcely thinned yet, showed no more than a few white strands; in spite of his seventy years it had kept its youthful fairness, a reddish blond that reminded one of rotting straw and really did not suit an old man, for whom one would have liked to imagine a more venerable covering. But Herr von Pasenow was accustomed to the colour of his hair, nor in his judgment did his monocle look in the least too youthful. When he gazed in the mirror he recognized there the face that had returned his gaze fifty years before. Yet though Herr von Pasenow was not displeased with himself, there were people whom the looks of this old man filled with discomfort, and who could not comprehend how any woman could ever have looked upon him or embraced him with desire in her eyes; and at most they would allow him only the Polish maids on his estate, and held that even these he must have got round by that slightly hysterical and yet arrogant aggressiveness which is often characteristic of small men. Whether this was true or not, it was the belief of his two sons, and it goes without saying that he did not share it. For, after all, sons’ thoughts are often coloured by prejudice, and it would have been easy to accuse his sons of injustice and bias in spite of the uncomfortable feeling which the sight of Herr von Pasenow aroused, a really remarkable feeling of discomfort that actually increased when he had passed by and one chanced to look after him. Perhaps that was due to the fact that his back view made one doubtful of his age, for his movements were neither like those of an old man,
nor like those of a youth, nor like those of a man in the prime of life. And as doubt gives rise to discomfort, it is possible that some chance stroller might have resented as undignified the man’s style of progression, and if he should have gone on to characterize it as overweening and vulgar, as feebly rakish and swaggering, one would not have been surprised. Such things, of course, are a matter of temperament: yet one can quite well imagine some young man, blinded with hatred, hurrying back to thrust his cane between the legs of any man who walked in that way, so as to bring him down by hook or by crook and break his legs and put an end for ever to such a style of walking. Herr von Pasenow, however, went straight on with very quick steps; he held his head erect as small men generally do; and as he held himself very erect too, his little belly was stuck slightly forward, one might almost have said that he carried it in front of him; yes, that he was carrying his whole person somewhere or other, belly and all, a hateful gift which nobody wanted. Yet as a simile really accounts for nothing, those ill opinions would have remained without solid foundation, and perhaps one might even have grown ashamed of them until one noticed the walking-stick accompanying his legs. The stick moved to a regular rhythm, rose almost to the height of his knees, returned with a little sharp impact to the ground and rose again, and the feet went on beside it. And these too rose higher than feet should do, the toes shot out a little too far as if they were presenting his shoe-soles in contempt to approaching pedestrians, and the heels were deposited again with a little sharp impact on the pavement. So the two legs and the walking-stick went on together, suggesting the involuntary fancy that this man, had he come to the world as a horse, would have been a pacer; but the horrible and disgusting thing was that he was a three-legged pacer, a tripod that had set itself in motion. And it was horrible, too, to realize that the three-legged purposiveness of the man’s walk must be as deceptive as its undeviating rapidity: that it was directed towards nothing at all! For nobody who had a serious end in view could walk like that, and if for a moment one involuntarily thought of a profiteer inexorably conveying himself to some poor man’s house to collect a debt, one saw at once how inadequate and prosaic was such a notion, and one was terrified by the intuition that it was a devil’s walk, like a dog hobbling on three legs—a rectilinear zigzag … enough: for anyone who analysed Herr von Pasenow’s walk with loving hate might have discovered all this and more. Most people, after all, lend themselves
to such experiments. There is always something that will fit. And if Herr von Pasenow did not really lead a busy life, but on the contrary expended ample time in fulfilling the decorative and other obligations which a quietly secure income brings with it, yet—and that too expressed his character—he was always bustling, and mere sauntering was far from his nature. Besides, visiting Berlin but twice a year, he had abundance to do when he was there. Just now he was on his way to his younger son, Lieutenant Joachim von Pasenow.
Whenever Joachim von Pasenow met his father, memories of his boyhood thronged up in him as was natural enough: but the most vivid of these were always the events preceding his entrance to the cadet school in Culm. True, it was only fragments of the past that fleetingly emerged, and important and trivial things flowed chaotically through one another. So perhaps it may seem idle and superfluous to mention Jan, the steward, whose image, though he was a quite secondary figure, obtruded itself in front of all the others. But this may have been because Jan was not really a man, but a beard. For hours one could gaze at him and meditate whether, behind that dishevelled landscape covered with impenetrable yet soft undergrowth, a human creature was concealed. Even when Jan spoke—but he did not speak much—one could not be certain of this, for his words took form behind his beard as behind a curtain, and it might as easily have been another who uttered them. But most exciting of all was when Jan yawned; for then the hairy superficies gaped at a pre-ordained point, substantiating the fact that this was also the place where Jan conveyed food into himself. When Joachim had run to him to tell him of his approaching entrance into the cadet school, Jan was having his dinner; and he sat there cutting bread into chunks and silently listening. At last he said: “Well, is the young master glad?” And then Joachim became aware that he was not in the least glad; he actually felt he wanted to cry; but as there was no immediate pretext for that, he only nodded and said that he was glad.
Then there was the Iron Cross that hung in a glass-covered frame in the big drawing-room. It had belonged to a Pasenow who, in the year 1813, had held a high position in the army. Seeing that it always hung on the wall, the great fuss that was made when Uncle Bernhard received one too was somewhat puzzling. Joachim was still ashamed, now in 1888, that he had ever been so stupid. But perhaps he had been embittered merely
because they had tried to make the cadet school more palatable to him by dangling the Iron Cross before him. In any case his brother Helmuth would have been a more suitable subject for the cadet school, and in spite of the years that had passed Joachim still considered it a ridiculous arrangement that the elder son had to take to the land and the younger to the army. The Iron Cross had left him quite indifferent, but Helmuth had been filled with wild enthusiasm when Uncle Bernhard had taken part in the storming of Kissingen with his division, the Goeben. In any case he wasn’t even a real uncle, but only a cousin of their father’s.