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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to relish for Walser fans
The book is written in the first person by Jakob von Gunten, a 17 year old boy who enrols in a private academy for servants, the Institute Benjamenta. The Institute is like a boys' boarding school, run by an eccentric couple, Frau and Fraulein Benjamenta who teach the basics of a servant's behaviour and duties such as entering a room, behaviour towards women and waiting...
Published on 3 Jun. 2010 by Thomas Cunliffe

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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not compelling
I suspect that this went over my head I've read many classics and found them just as interesting and engaging as everyone always claimed they were, the outdated prose and and insight into the culture of the past adding to the experience. Unfortunately the sense of difference was all I got from this book, the apparent lack of plot direction left me struggling to finish a...
Published on 25 Sept. 2010 by Slaine


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to relish for Walser fans, 3 Jun. 2010
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Thomas Cunliffe "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics) (Paperback)
The book is written in the first person by Jakob von Gunten, a 17 year old boy who enrols in a private academy for servants, the Institute Benjamenta. The Institute is like a boys' boarding school, run by an eccentric couple, Frau and Fraulein Benjamenta who teach the basics of a servant's behaviour and duties such as entering a room, behaviour towards women and waiting on table etc. But more importantly, they also attempt to train their pupils in the inner attitude of a servant which seems to consist of a daily personal humiliation in which the servant's character is moulded by an almost Christian principle of denying oneself.

The writing of Institute Benjamenta is characterised, like so much of Walser's work, by its description of an inner world of feelings and impressions. Events happen around the main character Jakob, but they are subordinated to the processes of inner development which is far more important to him than any material progress. Walser is interested in Jakcob's state of mind, and on more than one occasion he allows Jakob to describe significant dreams, even on occasion admitting that he finds it hard to distinguish between dreaming and waking.

The inner development in the case of Institute Benjamenta is about abasement. The job of a servant is to put himself to one side, to live a life so unobtrusively that he merges into the background. The whole Institute is designed to achieve that state of mind where servant-hood is not a professional facade but a permanent revolution in which the servant is constantly annihilating his own wishes and desires in order to serve his master or mistress better. Even the practical side of the classes is unutterably boring. The students perform the same small tasks over and over, and when they are finished, they have literally nothing to do.

Institute Benjamenta can be seen as a satire on the pretensions of the people around the author who sought position and prosperity in the fast-developing world of the early 20th century.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating and dreamlike short novel, 9 Nov. 2001
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This review is from: Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics) (Paperback)
This book, a kind of notebook comprised of short entries, tells the story of a boy sent to the institute benjamenta. Yet he 'learns very little' and tells us more about the strange routines and rules he has to endure, the other boys there who all seem slightly unreal, and the forbidding headmaster. The prose is not childlike but evokes the straightforward observations a young boy might make. It is a wonderful fantasy, nothing but joy of the imagination and the darkly fantastical.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not compelling, 25 Sept. 2010
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This review is from: Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics) (Paperback)
I suspect that this went over my head I've read many classics and found them just as interesting and engaging as everyone always claimed they were, the outdated prose and and insight into the culture of the past adding to the experience. Unfortunately the sense of difference was all I got from this book, the apparent lack of plot direction left me struggling to finish a very short book. I didn't engage with the protagonist and found his rapier wit and insight somewhat lacking. It may have made a lot more sense when written and captured the cultural zeitgeist and if so I wish I'd read it then.
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Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics)
Institute Benjamenta (Extraordinary Classics) by Robert Walser (Paperback - 15 Oct. 1995)
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