Young Törless Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless, 1906 (English translation, 1955)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical realism

Time of work: The late nineteenth century

Locale: A boarding school in the Austrian Empire

Characters DiscussedTörless

Törless Young Törless (TEHR-lehs), a young boy at the celebrated military boarding school “W” in a remote eastern town of the Austrian Empire. When Törless first arrives at the boarding school, he is homesick and writes letters home almost daily. Although a friendship with the youthful cadet Prince H. helps him to overcome this early personal problem, it is only when Törless becomes acquainted with two older classmates, Beineberg and Reiting, that he begins to resolve this crisis in his psychological development. Beineberg indirectly helps Törless to overcome the attendant and painful experiences of his awakening sexuality. Most important in the coming to adolescent consciousness, however, is his difficult and ambivalent homosexual relationship with his classmate Basini. Even though Törless is physically present during the torture of Basini and even receives some vicarious pleasure from the events, he seems to be intellectually separated from them. He is trying to come to terms with a confusion that does not allow him to reconcile the events he observes and feels with the intellectual world he is developing. No one on the faculty seems able to help him to articulate this dilemma. It is not until later, while under questioning about the Basini affair, that Törless suddenly recognizes the conundrum that has plagued him. He explains that there are things that are on some occasions seen with the eyes and at other times with the eyes of the soul. Having attained this insight, Törless decides to leave the boarding school.


Basini (bah-SEE-nee), another student. Basini has all the personal characteristics of the physically and intellectually weak person. He is caught stealing money from the lockers of other students by Beineberg and Reiting, who take it upon themselves to punish him. Törless is involuntarily included in this conspiracy. For Törless, a period of immense confusion ensues, because he believes that the theft should be reported. Even more troublesome is the response of his parents, who are not outraged by the theft and suggest that Basini be given the opportunity to mend his ways in the future. The punishment takes place in a secret attic room where the three boys carry out a systematic plan of enslaving Basini. Each boy conducts a personal experiment with his slave, submitting Basini to brutality, humiliation, and egregious sexual demands. Basini is incapable of defending himself against his tyrannizers. As a final form of brutalization, it is decided to turn him over to the entire student body, so that the masses will have the opportunity to annihilate Basini. Törless tries to warn him, but it is too late. Fearing the mass of tormentors, Basini turns himself in to the school authorities, who undertake an extensive inquest that results in his dismissal.


Beineberg (BI-neh-behrg), a young baron and student, two years older than Törless. He is a dictatorial conspirator in the Basini affair. Beineberg’s father served as an officer in the British military in India, whence he returned with a somewhat perverted understanding of the Buddhist philosophy. The son attempts to apply these teachings by trying to wield spiritual powers over Basini. Through hypnosis, Beineberg hopes to initiate contact with Basini’s lost soul and thereby cure him of his crime. Basini, however, rejects Beineberg’s hypnotic suggestions and defeats the experiment, leading Beineberg to give him a wrathful beating. Beineberg’s activities are not discovered by the school authorities, and he is able to remain in and be graduated from the military boarding school.


Reiting (RI-tihng), who also is two years older than Törless and is the other dictatorial conspirator in the Basini affair. Reiting is the instigator who promotes physical punishment of Basini. He rejects any suggestion from Törless that alternate means should be found to deal with the thief. In the secret attic room, Reiting takes considerable pleasure in torturing Basini and, after some time, proposes that Basini should be turned over to the entire school to suffer from the attacks of the masses. While Beineberg is conducting his spiritual experiments, Reiting’s behavior produces an example of how large groups can effect mindless physical terror. Like his friend Beineberg, Reiting goes unpunished and completes his studies at the school.

BibliographyLuft, David S. Robert Musil and the Crisis of European Culture, 1880-1942, 1980.Lukacs, Georg. “The World of the Novel of Education and the Romanticism of Reality,” in The Theory of the Novel, 1971.Pascal, Roy. “Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship,” in The German Novel, 1956.Peters, Frederick G. Robert Musil, Master of the Hovering Life: A Study of the Major Fiction, 1978.Sanford, Nevitt. “Action to Promote Personality Development: Some Basic Concepts,” in Self and Society: Social Change and Individual Development, 1966.
Categories: Characters