Amongst all the new authors I endeavoured to read since last year, Stefan Zweig quickly came to be one of my most endeared ones. After a quick research, I found out that while he was widely popular in a great number of Western countries in the Interwar years, his popularity started declining soon after. Nowadays, readers have started to rediscover Zweig, with many revisited or brand new translations of his work surfacing as a result.
I have merely read two of Zweig’s novellas as of yet, compared to the wealth of various literary genres he ventured into, but I have chosen to make a post about them as I find them absolutely beautiful pieces of literature.
My very first encounter with Zweig’s writing was through his novella Confusion (original title: Verwirrung der Gefühle), which was first published in 1926. The 2012 English translation published by NYRB Classics’ blurb is as follows:
“Stefan Zweig was particularly drawn to the novella, and ‘Confusion,’ a rigorous and yet transporting dramatization of the conflict between the heart and the mind, is among his supreme achievements in the form.
A young man who is rapidly going to the dogs in Berlin is packed off by his father to a university in a sleepy provincial town. There a brilliant lecture awakens in him a wild passion for learning—as well as a peculiarly intense fascination with the graying professor who gave the talk. The student grows close to the professor, becoming a regular visitor to the apartment he shares with his much younger wife. He takes it upon himself to urge his teacher to finish the great work of scholarship that he has been laboring at for years and even offers to help him in any way he can. The professor welcomes the young man’s attentions, at least on some days. On others, he rages without apparent reason or turns away from his disciple with cold scorn. The young man is baffled, wounded. He cannot understand.
But the wife understands. She understands perfectly. And one way or another she will help him to understand too.“
This was a novella filled with emotions. Exceptionally well-written, it tackles a topic which used to be very sensitive at the time it was written (and still is), yet Zweig handles it with the utmost care and with admirable sensibility and understanding. I also loved how scholarship was included in the story, since, as an aspiring academic myself, it is a topic that never ceases to fascinate me. Having read Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro a few months before Zweig’s Confusion, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities in the relationships between the student-protagonists and their professors (although the main element which makes Confusion what it is was completely absent from Kokoro, the main point of which was radically different, but still).
The second novella of his I read was Journey into the Past (original title: Widerstand der Wirklichkeit), first published in 1976, approximately 35 years after his death. According to the blurb of the 2010 English translation published by NYRB Classics:
“A deep study of the uneasy heart by one of the masters of the psychological novel, ‘Journey into the Past’, published here for the first time in America, is a novella that was found among Zweig’s papers after his death. Investigating the strange ways in which love, in spite of everything – time, war, betrayal – can last, Zweig tells the story of Ludwig, an ambitious young man from a modest background who falls in love with the wife of his rich employer. His love is returned, and the couple vow to live together, but then Ludwig is dispatched on business to Mexico, and while he is there the First World War breaks out. With travel and even communication across the Atlantic shut down, Ludwig makes a new life in the New World. Years later, however, he returns to Germany to find his beloved a widow and their mutual attraction as strong as ever. But is it possible for love to survive precisely as the impossible?“
Yet another deeply heartfelt story, which comes to enhance and further prove Zweig’s aptitude in delving into the human soul and baring it for the entire world to see, without being afraid of judgement or taboos.
If you have yet to discover Zweig’s writing, do treat yourself with one of his books. He is a writer who deserves to be as widely read as possible.