Throughout his life, Robert Walser described himself as “infinitely unsuccessful”; eighty years after he vanished into psychiatric institutions, and fifty years after his death, Robert Walser has become a classic of modern Swiss literature. His work is now available in collected, selected and individual editions and has been translated into thirty languages.
Today, Walser’s importance is based not only on his work printed in book form and newspapers, but also on a great number of unpublished texts. The “microscripts” – a total of 526 pages covered in a miniaturized and compressed pencil script – in particular, have gained international attention.
In 1937, Carl Seelig had already received a number of manuscripts and printed documents – allegedly in a shoe box – from Walser’s sister Lisa. After Walser’s death, a further bundle of papers was found at the Herisau sanitarium and handed over to Carl Seelig.
Walser’s estate included:
- 526 pages of microscripts (pages of various kinds and sizes used by Walser to compose his texts in a miniature pencil script)
- 224 unpublished prose manuscripts from the years 1924-1933, and 73 separately numbered poetry manuscripts (also unpublished, except for Der Sonntag)
- around 300 prose publications (the earliest publications date back to Walser’s time in Biel and include publications up to 1937), as well as 122 poems from Walser’s time in Bern
The estates of Walser’s siblings, Karl (partial estate), Lisa, Oscar and Fanny, were later added to the original estate.
In 1997, the Robert Walser Society succeeded in acquiring the important Walser collection of the Zurich-based antiquarian Jörg Schäfer. The collection, which was subsequently deposited in the Robert Walser Archive, included the original manuscripts for The Tanners and The Assistant; a collection of handwritten prose pieces, poems and letters; as well as approximately 250 rare first editions of Walser texts and an extensive collection of works by Karl Walser’s (book illustrations, designs and graphics).
The collection at the Robert Walser Archive comprises a total of about 300 letters by Robert Walser, including his letters to Frieda Mermet and Therese Breitbach, as well as a large number of personal documents.
The “manuscripts section” of the above holdings has been transferred as a long-term deposit to the Swiss Literary Archive SLA at the Swiss National Library.
Researchers can consult digital high-resolution copies of the manuscripts at the Robert Walser Center. Original copies may, in exceptional and duly justified cases, be accessed in the reading room at the Swiss Literary Archive SLA. Requests must be made at least two weeks in advance via the Robert Walser Archive (lukas.gloor(at)robertwalser.ch); all consultations must adhere to the policies of the Swiss Literary Archive SLA.