How I have I managed to live this long, consider myself fairly well read and not have read this author until this week? I found Stefan Zweig’s ‘ Beware of Pity’ as I was mooching around the bookshop opposite the University of Leeds. I love browsing bookstores in the flesh, as opposed to the online experience. There’s a greater opportunity to be entranced, pulled in and inevitably an exchange of books for money occurs in this heady environment. Luckily for me three circumstances combined to tip the balance between buy/not buy . Firstly my birthday was imminent, secondly my husband was in the immediate vicinity and thirdly ‘3 for 2’ took me into a hunt for a third book. ‘Beware of Pity’ was that third volume. I’m so glad it was.
I read this hungrily, resenting the endless interruptions being carried away by the story telling, carried away by the poetic prose, simplistic and beguilingly easy to digest. Beguilingly because at the heart of this beautifully told tale you find jewels of wisdom. Stefan Zweig’s humanity shines through this book. After learning more about the man I understand how this book has the power to move me so directly. I won’t tell you what the story is, only that is is worth reading. I will tell you more about the author.
He was one of the worlds most widely read author in the twenties and thirties, but found notoriety a disturbance. He was born into a well to do Austrian family but on account of his Jewishness led a peripatetic life, having to relocate to England, and finally to America.
“At twenty-one years I am still very young, but I was always early. My literary activity began in a strange way for a poet – I started as a literary historian at the age of fifteen.”
He wrote poetry, historical biography , novellas and one full novel – ‘Beware of Pity’. Anthea Bell, the translator points out that the literal translation of the title is ‘Impatience of the Heart” and when you come to the end of the novel, this sums it up perfectly. Zweig manages to convey the pyschological dramas that play out within the human experience with exquisite brilliance. His characters breathe and the reader is on a roller coaster of human emotion, Zweigs’ sensitivity to human nature married to his poetic sensibility and literary flair combine to make this read deeply moving. The brilliance in the writing is how comfortable it is to read. It provokes , it stimulates , it asks questions of how we want to see ourselves. He is a philosopher asking the essential questions about morality, he is an artist in the way he draws the characters alive. He was a man who liked women, married two of them , and enjoyed living well. He was reknown, enjoyed numerous trips to dozens of countries and made friendships easily,knowing a litany of wellknowns such as Arthur Schnitzler, Joseph Roth, Sigmund Freud,Rainer Maria Wilke, the list is endless. He had a life. A good life.
The sadness is he took it, in a double suicide alongside his second wife. He had become too weakened by asthma and depression to want to live in the new world order that had supplanted his ‘old world’.
I am very glad to have read this book, to have found acquaintance with this writer. I will be reading more of his work .
There is an excellent website set up by his followers which is worth a visit. There is so much about this man that is worth finding out about. http://www.casastefanzweig.com.br/sec_mus.php