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This study employs methodological tools of a specifically literary nature to determine how in Proust and Musil a realisation of the late 19th century 'crisis of the subject' is dovetailed with a form of 'critical fiction' where the hero is at one and the same time a commentator 'at one remove' from the events he describes. An analytic lecture croisée of two of the major works signalling the advent of modernity is combined with close comparisons with other novels (Flaubert, Dickens, Th. Mann, J. Roth, Svevo etc.). It transpires that the underlying dynamic informing these apparently very different works in fact reflects identical aesthetic concerns on the part of the authors: the various forms of 'disarray' evidenced by the protagonist are in fact the point of departure for a new concept of the novel where the interaction between narrator, central figure and reader plays an essential role.