GER30190 Youth & Cruelty in Modernism

Academic Year 2022/2023

Hardly any period of the human life cycle is idealised as regularly and as wildly as youth. However, as is often the case with ideals, the reality is sometimes very different. This module will focus on several novels and novellas from German Modernist literature, Robert Walser's "Jakob von Gunten", Robert Musil's "Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß" and Arthur Schnitzler's "Der Sohn". Like much Modernist prose, these works are as much about the form of experience as well as its content, looking at the unique way each individual experiences the world, and sometimes flounders in it. We see a commentary on things such as value systems, power relations, gender and social status. In some instances, the narratives reveal an ambivalence not often mentioned in common expectations (and idealisations) of youth. At times, some of the texts place more negative experiences of youthfulness in the spotlight: they don't shy away from themes such as bullying, exclusion, and the experience of "difference".

The protagonists have hopes, fears and crises of identity on many levels. Walser, Musil and Schnitzler in these works show the threshold between youth and adulthood, innocence and guilt, self-assurance and anxiety, and in the midst of this, the young protagonists' struggles to find a voice.

(You are expected to attend all classes.)

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module, you should be able to:
- Write a coherent essay in which you comment analytically on the themes discussed, engaging appropriately with secondary literature;
- have demonstrated in your presentation that you have reflected on your own encounter with the material, including any questions emerging, or problems presented within the texts, as well as ideas that have led to your thinking about the themes discussed during the module in a new way;
- Demonstrate an insight into Modernist aesthetics based on a selection of writings from these Austrian and Swiss writers from the period around 1900.

Indicative Module Content:

(Please refer to Module Content and Purpose)
Themes may include: Modernity; Identity; Youth; Freedom; Alienation; Power; Abuse of Power; Bullying; Gender; Homosexuality

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module will consist of weekly lectures and tutorials. Normally, there will be a lecture on Mondays, with the discussion-based 'seminar' class on Wednesdays, during which the corresponding material is discussed. For most of these seminar-style classes, some questions will be made available in advance on Brightspace. These should enable you to take part fully in discussions as well as aiding individual reading and problem-solving. At times, written work (questions or shorter tasks) may be set for you to complete during class time instead of the seminar format. In some weeks, additional video material (lectures, or content-based resources) may be made available to you on Brightspace, and you will be expected to engage with this as part of your independent study for the module.
Your reading and wider reading from the Bibliography are an important part of the learning process and assessment-preparation. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Requirements:

Students taking this module require advanced reading ability in German.

Learning Exclusions:


Learning Recommendations:

Students taking this module require advanced reading ability in German.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Presentation: Presentations will be normally be in groups, but, depending on class size, may be individual also. They should show evidence of research and also contain questions to facilitate class discussion. Varies over the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Examination: Examination Paper will consist of two questions, one from Section A (interpreting a passage and placing it in context) and one from Section B (essay-style questions). 2 hour End of Trimester Exam No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

You are encouraged to seek feedback on your presentation, once you have given this, or advice on your presentation in advance. To do so, please attend designated office hours or, should you have classes clashing with these, make an appointment. If your presentation was individual, the post-presentation feedback will be individual, but if your presentation was in a group, you are welcome to receive your feedback either individually or in a group. All students are also welcome to attend these office hours (or make an appointment) to discuss any aspect of the module. Feedback on presentations will be oral. The presentation for this module takes the form of a book review. Your book review will be assessed on (a) content and evidence of preparation (to include wider reading); (b) communication, for example, whether your ideas were clear and whether they opened up good possibilities for discussion in class. Assessment Essays: You should ensure that you collect your essay when the new trimester begins in January. There will be a comments page, and corrections here and in the margins are intended to be of use to you for further assessment work in other modules.

Youth and Cruelty in German Modernism Dr Jeanne Riou
GER 30190 / GER 40270



Sigmund Freud, „Die Verdrängung“, in: Gesammelte Werke, Anna Freud, E. Bibring, W. Hoffer, E. Kris, O. Isakower (eds.), Fischer: Frankfurt/Main 1999 (=11940 London), Vol. X.

„Über Kindheits- und Deckerinnerungen“), in: Gesammelte Werke, Anna Freud, E. Bibring, W. Hoffer, E. Kris, O. Isakower (eds.), Fischer: Frankfurt/Main 1999 (=11940 London), Vol. IV: Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens.

William James, The Principles of Psychology. Vol. One, Dover: New York 1950 (=11890).

Robert Musil, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß, Rowohlt Verlag: Hamburg 2016.

Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/Main 1985.

Arthur Schnitzler, „Der Sohn“, in: Meistererzählungen, Hans Weigel (ed), Diogenes: Zürich 1975.

Recommended Further Reading / Compulsory for GER 40270

Sigmund Freud, Das Ich und das Es, in: Gesammelte Werke, Anna Freud, E. Bibring, W. Hoffer, E. Kris, O. Isakower (eds.), Fischer: Frankfurt/Main 1999 (=11940 London), Vol. XIII. (*Optional, also for GER 40270)

Franz Kafka, Das Urteil und andere Prosa, Reclam: Stuttgart 1995

Ernst Mach, Die Analyse der Empfindungen und das Verhältnis des Psychischen zum Physischen (1885), 2nd revised edition, Jena 1900.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Penguin: London 1994 (Recommended)


Brookemann, Christopher, “Pencey Prep: Cultural Codes in The Catcher in the Rye”, in: New Essays on the Catcher in the Rye, Cambridge: CUP 1991.

De Cauwer, Stijn, “Robert Musil’s Cultural Diagnostics in the Light of Nietzschean Immunology”, in: Neophilologus, 96, (2012) , pp- 411–425. (NB. While this focuses more on Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften than on Törleß, it nevertheless offers a good account of (i) Musil’s perspective on Nietzsche and (ii) how he approaches the relationship between art and morality.

Dowden, Stephen D., Sympathy for the Abyss: A Study in German Modernism: Kafka, Broch, Musil and Thomas Mann, Niemeyer: Tübingen 1986.

Frederick, Samuel and Heffernan, Valerie, Robert Walser. A Companion, Northwestern University Press: Illinois 2018.

Grimwade, Robert, “Between the Quills: Schopenhauer and Freud on Sadism and Masochism”, in: The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 92: 1 (2011), pp. 149-169.

Hickmann, Hannah, Robert Musil and the Culture of Vienna, Croon Helm: London, Sydney 1984.

Hoffmann, Birthe, “Eine menschliche Moderne? Robert Musils Versuch einer neuen Synthese auf dem Boden der Gestalttheorie“, in Musiliana, 17, 2018,

Jared Parmer, W., “Nietzsche and the Art of Cruelty”, in: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Volume 48, Issue 3, Autumn 2017, pp. 402-429.

Nübel, Birgitt & Wolf, Norbert Christian, Robert Musil Handbuch, de Gruyter: Berlin, Boston 2016.

Plug, Jan, “Guilty: Of Nothing (Jakob von Gunten)”, in: ESC: English Studies in Canada, 32, 1, 2006, pp. 161-182.

Riou, Jeanne, Anthropology of Connection. Perception and its Emotional Undertones in German Philosophical Discourse: 1880-1930, Königshausen & Neumann: Würzburg, 2014.

Rochelle, Tobias, “The Double Fiction in Robert Walser's ‘Jakob von Gunten"”, in: The German Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 3, Focus on Literature around 1900 (Summer, 2006), pp. 293-307
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of German
Stable URL:

Rogowski, Christian, “Re-Calibrating German Modernity”, in: Germanic Review, 85, 2, 2010

Ryan, Judith, “The Vanishing Subject: Empirical Psychology and the Modern Novel”, in: PMLA
Vol. 95, No. 5 1980, pp. 857-869.

Smith, Peter D., “The Scientist as Spectator: Musil’s ‘Törleß’ and the Challenge to Mach’s Neo-Positivism”, in: The Germanic Review, 5, 2000.

Stöhr, Ingo R., “The First Decade of the Twentieth Century: Aestheticism – Impressionism and Symbolism”, in: German Literature of the Twentieth Century. From Aestheticism to Postmodernism, Camden House: Rochester, NY 2001, pp. 12-20.

Stopp, Elisabeth, “Musil's ‘Törless’: Content and Form”, in: The Modern Language Review, 63, 1, 1968, p. 94-118.

Goldgar, Harry, “The Square Root of minus One: Freud and Robert Musil's Törless”, in: Comparative Literature, 17, 2, 1965, pp. 117-132.

Utz Peter, Tanz auf den Rändern. Robert Walsers Jetztzeitstil, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/Main 2018.

„Robert Walsers ‚Jakob von Gunten‘. Eine ‚Null‘-Stelle der Deutschen Literatur“, in: Deutsche Vierteljahresschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, 74, 2000, pp. 448-512.

Name Role
Dr Joseph Twist Lecturer / Co-Lecturer