Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)
Stefan Zweig was a prolific Austrian novelist, dramatist, poet, essayist and translator. He was born into a bourgeois secular Jewish family in 1881 in Habsburg Vienna. In his autobiographical text Die Welt von Gestern; The World of Yesterday (1942), he described the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the century as “the golden age of security” and much of his work is set in this context. During his lifetime, however, he became a witness of a rapidly changing Europe and two world wars.
He spent the First World War working at the Vienna War Press Agency, before he moved to Switzerland in 1917. Between 1919 and 1934 he spent most of his time in Salzburg. Due to harassment by the National Socialists, who had also publicly burned his books, he decided to go into British exile. After extended journeys in the United States, he finally settled down in Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro in 1941. In February 1942, he committed suicide together with his second wife Lotte (née Altmann).
Stefan Zweig’s literary oeuvre includes his early poems as well as novellas, literary biographies, dramas, essays, libretti, novels and autobiographical texts. In his novellas Stefan Zweig elaborates his protagonists’ inner emotionial life extensively (see for example Brennendes Geheimnis (1913) [Burning Secret] and Verwirrung der Gefühle (1927) [Confusion of Feelings]). This focus is clearly connected with the intense interest in psychology at the turn of the century, which had reached its peak in the development of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud.
Apart from Freud and others, Zweig’s writing was also greatly influenced by the pacifist and humanist ideas of his older friend Romain Rolland (1866-1944), a contemporary French intellectual, writer and Nobel laureate. These ideas are reflected in many of his works (see especially Jeremias (1917) [Jeremiah] and Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (1934) [Triumph and Tragedy of Erasmus of Rotterdam]). During his lifetime Zweig, moreover, always regarded himself as a cosmopolite writer and a mediator between languages and cultures. He translated many works himself, such as the poems of the Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren, arranged many other translations and was involved in various publication projects of foreign literature at the German Insel publishing house.
Zweig’s literary biographies launched his international career. In contrast to the heroic biographies of historical characters, which were very common at the time, Zweig depicts the protagonists of his texts as heroes not due to obvious heroic achievements, but due to their inner idealistic conviction. He often preferred portraying characters who actually failed to succeed (see for example Marie Antoinette (1932) and Maria Stuart (1935), on whom Schiller’s play Maria Stuart was also based). The essay collection Sternstunden der Menschheit [literally: Great Moments of Humanity; translated title: Decisive Moments in History], which included five historical episodes in the first edition of 1927, even became one of the best sold books at the time.
Of his novels, Zweig only completed Ungeduld des Herzens (1939) [Beware of Pity]. As with many of the novellas, the novel is set on the eve of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and can be read as a critique of the occasionally even fatal consequences of the predominantly superficial moral standards and etiquette. The two other novels, Clarissa [Clarissa] and Rausch der Verwandlung [literally: The Intoxication of Metamorphosis; translated title: The Post Office Girl], which both remained fragments, were published posthumously.
In the 1920s, at the height of his career, Stefan Zweig’s fiction and biographical writings achieved such universal popularity that he became the most widely read and most translated writer of our time. The international reception of his works still represents a remarkable phenomenon. In many regions, even outside of Europe, as in China for example, his works are still extraordinary well received.
Selected works by Stefan Zweig
Brennendes Geheimnis (1913) [Burning Secret]
Brief einer Unbekannten (1922) [Letter from an Unknown Woman]
Vierundzwanzig Stunden aus dem Leben einer Frau (1927) [Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman]
Verwirrung der Gefühle (1927) [Confusion of Feelings]
Die unsichtbare Sammlung (1927) [The Invisible Collection]
Der Amokläufer (1922) [Amok]
Biographical and Historical Writing
Romain Rolland. Der Mann und das Werk (1921) [Romain Rolland. The Man and the Work]
Sternstunden der Menschheit (1927) [literally: Great Moments of Humanity; translated title: Decisive Moments in History]
Joseph Fouché. Bildnis eines politischen Menschen (1929) [Joseph Fouché. Portrait of a Political Character]
Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (1934) [Triumph and Tragedy of Erasmus of Rotterdam]
Maria Stuart (1935) [Mary Stuart]
Marie Antoinette. Bildnis eines mittleren Charakters (1932) [Marie Antoinette. Portrait of an Average Woman]
Castellio gegen Calvin oder Ein Gewissen gegen die Gewalt (1936) [The Right to Heresy. Castellio against Calvin]
Tersites (1907) [Thersites]
Das Haus am Meer (1912) [The House at the Sea]
Jeremias (1917) [Jeremiah]
Das Lamm der Armen (1929) [The Lamb of the Poor]
Ungeduld des Herzens (1939) [Beware of Pity]
Rausch der Verwandlung (unfinished, published posthumously 1982) [literally: The Intoxication of Metamorphosis; translated title: The Post Office Girl]
Clarissa (unfinished, published posthumously 1981) [Clarissa]
Silberne Saiten (1901) [Silver Strings]
Die frühen Kränze (1906) [The Early Garlands]
Jeffrey B. Berlin, Jorun B. Johns, and Richard H. Lawson (eds.), Turn-of-the-Century Vienna and Its Legacy: Essays in Honor of Donald G. Daviau (Vienna: Edition Atelier, 1993)
Charmian Brinson, Richard Dove, and Jennifer Taylor (eds.), “Immortal Austria”? Austrians in Exile in Britain (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007)
Mark H. Gelber (ed.), Stefan Zweig Reconsidered. New Perspectives on his Literary and Biographical Writings (Tübingen: Niemeyer 2007)
Mark H. Gelber and Klaus Zelewitz (eds.), Stefan Zweig: Exil und Suche nach dem Weltfrieden (Riverside: Ariadne Press, 1995) [includes articles in English]
Randolph J. Klawiter, Stefan Zweig. An International Bibliography (Riverside: Ariadne Press, 1991)
Heinz Lunzer and Gerhard Renner (eds.), Stefan Zweig 1881/1981. Aufsätze und Dokumente (Vienna: Dokumentationsstelle für neuere österreichische Literatur, 1981) [includes articles in English]
Oliver Matuschek, Three Lives. A Biography of Stefan Zweig, trans. by Allan Blunden (London: Pushkin Press, 2011)
Donald A. Prater, European of Yesterday. A Biography of Stefan Zweig (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)
Marion Sonnenfeld (ed.), The World of Yesterday's Humanist Today. Proceedings of the Stefan Zweig Symposium (New York: State University of New York Press, 1983)
David Turner, ‘The Function of the Narrative Frame in the “Novellen” of Stefan Zweig’, Modern Language Review 76:1 (1981), 116-28
David Turner, Moral Values and the Human Zoo. The Novellen of Stefan Zweig (Hull: Hull University Press, 1989)
Stefan Zweig Centre Salzburg
Stefan Zweig Bibliography, compiled by Randolph J. Klawiter, University of Notre Dame
Stefan Zweig and the ‘Magic of Manuscripts’: British Library blog
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