The rediscovery of Robert Walser is rather poignant, as our knowledge of his unique work is based on the fragmentary nature of the available records and materials. At least three of Walser’s novels have disappeared, and it seems likely that many of Walser’s prose pieces and poems have been lost as well.
The fact that Walser’s work was published by a total of seven different publishers, and the resultant lack of continued support, further lessened the general impact of his work. Moreover, the vast majority of Walser’s texts were never published in book form; they enjoyed a brief existence in the feuilletons of daily newspapers. These texts were not collected until the 1960s as part of the Collected Works edited by Jochen Greven, while to this day newly discovered texts are being added.
During his lifetime, Walser was known primarily as the author of three novels: The Tanners, The Assistant and Jakob von Gunten. Among his fellow writers, he enjoyed a high reputation as a writer of short prose pieces, which were published in various literary journals as well as partially collected in book form, in Aufsätze (Essays) (1913) or Geschichten (Stories) (1914), for example. After his return from Berlin to Switzerland and the outbreak of World War I, his broader impact became more and more restricted, and his collections of prose pieces and the great novella Der Spaziergang (The Walk) reached only a very small audience.
Walser’s drafts from the 1920s represent another special aspect of his work (“Microscripts”). These are calligraphically “designed” pages in a miniature script, which was deemed undecipherable at first; upon close inspection, however, it emerged that the script was simply a miniature version of the German Kurrent script. The extant selection of 526 pages contained, in addition to a large number of well-known drafts, a further 2000 pages of unknown texts (Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet, 6 Volumes, 1985-2000).