Set in a boarding school in a remote area of the Habsburg Empire at the turn of the last century, The Confusions of Young Törless is an intense study of an adolescent’s psychological development as he struggles to come to terms with his conflicting emotions. Through his relationship with two other boys Törless is led into sadistic and sexual encounters with a third pupil which both repel and fascinate him. Estranged from everyday life, Törless gradually learns to accept his experiences and describe them with analytical precision.
The novel is based on the author’s own experiences at an Austrian military academy. A school story with a difference, Törless extends the scope of fiction with its non-judgemental presentation of transgressive sexuality and violence. It is a profoundly disturbing exploration of a non-moral outlook on life and of dictatorial attitudes that prefigure the outbreak of the First World War and the rise of fascism.