Born in Switzerland in 1878, Robert Walser worked as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor's assistant before discovering what William H. Gass calls his "true profession." From 1899 until he was misdiagnosed a schizophrenic and hospitalized in 1933, Walser produced nine novels and more than a thousand short stories and prose pieces.
Walser's contemporary admirers were few but well-placed. They included Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Robert Musil, and Walter Benjamin. Today Robert Walser is widely regarded as one of the most important and original literary voices of the twentieth century. In "Masquerade" and Other Stories, Susan Bernofsky presents a representative selection of Walser's work, from his first published fiction to the stately prose of the last years before his voice vanished forever behind the asylum walls. Written between 1899 and 1933, these 64 sketches, scenes, stories, and wanderings through landscapes and dreamscapes are characterized by startling, skewed comparisons, warpings of syntax, vagaries of perspective, and a delight in contradiction. Quirky, playful, and sometimes bizarre, Walser's texts were unconventional by the standards of the early twentieth century. They are still innovative in the context of today's fiction.