To an Unknown Little Girl

By Robert Musil
Translated by Genese Grill


Unknown little girl!

Because I do not know you, I am writing to you through the newspaper. Indeed, as I consider the circumstances of our meeting, it becomes clear to me that I am writing to someone who no longer even exists or who does so only in the most shadowy sense. But the meeting took place under very ordinary circumstances. You walked into a streetcar where I was sitting. I presume that you would have noticed me among the few passengers, because you comported yourself for display with an uncommonly-poised bearing, tiny little lady, like one who senses that she is being observed. Accompanying you was a gentleman of my own age, who also pleased me well; he might have been a much older brother, but if he was indeed your father, he acted toward you in a youthful and egalitarian way and not at all masterfully, and I presume that you cajoled his fancy the way you cajoled mine. I guess that you were at that time fourteen years old at the most. You were wearing a velvet street-colored dress that lay narrowly at the waist, so that the somewhat heavy but flexible material provided an illusion above and below of womanliness, without removing the childlike from the picture. The word "child-woman" came to me immediately when I saw you. Your velvet dress had fur cuffs on its narrow sleeves and was trimmed on the bottom too, where it formed a broad hem in the shape of a wheel; and it was somewhat reminiscent of a folk costume or an ice skating outfit, but it was probably not even a dress, but a coat: you yourself will certainly still know this today and happily remember it. I can only say in my defense that admiration observes much less precisely than self-admiration, which proceeds objectively in front of the mirror to examine and check details.

Perhaps this is a bad excuse, but in any case, it acknowledges that my admiration was non-objective and romantic in an entirely unreproachful manner, which is also entirely natural, for the possibility of falling in love with you lay precisely in my acting outside of the full consciousness of reality, which would not have allowed me to do so. Let us use that good old word dream for it: there one meets a person, recognizes who it is, and knows that it is someone else; in a similar way, deep within a mine, above which we usually move, you remained for me a child but were also an extremely miniature woman--for ten minutes, before you left the streetcar and were lost to me, without my doing anything to stop it.

The full story can be found in Fiction 59. Please follow the 'subscribe' link for information on ordering.