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Literature / The Confusions of Young Törless

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The Confusions of Young Törless (in the original German, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß) is a novel published in 1906, by Robert Musil.

It begins as ostensibly a Coming-of-Age Story set in a military academy for young Austrian aristocrats, but blossoms into a dark and at the time quite shocking exploration of morality . Törless is a homesick, intellectual young student attending boarding school in 19th century Austria. While he ponders mathematics and the nature of existence, two of his classmates, Beineberg and Reiting, set about the blackmail of another student, Basini, caught stealing money from them. And, of course, thieves must be punished, so Beineberg and Reiting set about doing so themselves. Their sadistic punishments grow in intensity, and soon the sadistic sexual undertones blossom into full-out text, events to which Torless is a creepily passive observer.

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The novel was made into a film in 1966, directed by Volker Schlondorff.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Beineberg is described as attractive in an uncanny way but otherwise oddly featured and batlike. In the film, he looks like the love child of Gaspard Ulliel as Hannibal and Tom Riddle.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Basini. In the novel, his surname sounds more vaguely Italian than anything, and his background is not noted; the filmmaker decided to play with the fascist parallels a bit more.
  • Butt-Monkey: Basini begins as a mild-mannered one of these.
  • Broken Bird: If you believe Bozena, she's had a pretty rough life, starting off as a handsome but inexperienced country girl and being taken advantage of, passing between lovers and brothels until finally ending up the lowest of the low and whoring herself out to schoolboys. However, she isn't very nice about it.
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  • Closet Key: Beineberg and Basini serve as this to Torless.
  • Downer Ending: Torless finally encourages Basini to go to a teacher for help, as much out of disgust as pity. Basini takes all the blame, and is expelled. Torless himself goes home in disgust.
  • The Dragon: Reiting is this to Beineberg, at least from Beineberg's point of view. He's totally willing to sell Reiting out, though, if not for how useful he is.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Averted. Torless is intrigued by some mathematical concepts (imaginary numbers especially) but is disappointed in his pursuit of knowledge about them.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: Basini is well-known for bragging about his sexual exploits, despite being too immature to care for sex.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Resolutely not Bozena.
  • Mad Scientist: Beineberg's, er, experimental interest in Basini makes him seem like something of a mad philosopher.
  • Mind Rape: Beineberg's favorite hobby.
  • Momma's Boy: Torless has shades of this, in the artiest possible way.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Torless visits Bozena, the cynical, raddled school prostitute, to mull over what he thinks of sex, and also his mother.
  • Rape and Switch: Sort of. While it's never indicated that Basini is actually gay, it's clear that Beineberg and Reiting's little visits have left him expecting any extensions of protection or friendship to mean sex.
  • Roman à Clef
  • Sadist Teacher: ... scarily, not who you have to worry about here.
  • Situational Sexuality
  • Teens Are Monsters
  • Torture Technician: Beineberg's experiments with hypnosis and mindfuckery come across this way.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Thanks to Values Dissonance, and the avoidance of Dawson Casting in the film, all the drinking and smoking can come across this way. The violence definitely does.
  • The Von Trope Family
  • Wicked Cultured: It's evident that at least Beineberg is pretty intelligent, philosophically minded and erudite... he's also a hysterical, slightly unhinged wannabe Torture Technician who venerates his crazy father.

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