Die Welt von Gestern

[This page by Arnhilt Hoefle]

Die Welt von Gestern [The World of Yesterday]

Die Welt von Gestern [The World of Yesterday], written between 1939 and 1941, was published posthumously by the German exiled publisher Bermann-Fischer in Stockholm in September 1942. The autobiographical text is among Stefan Zweig’s most widely received works and has been translated in more than 20 languages so far.

The subtitle Erinnerungen eines Europäers [Memories of a European] points to the importance Stefan Zweig ascribed to Europe and to his ideals of a peaceful, united continent. He always regarded himself as a mediator and therefore more a European than a mere Austrian writer. Furthermore, by adding this subtitle, he emphasised that it was not his intention to only retell stories of his own life. Instead, he saw himself as a European, the representative of a European generation that had been exposed to many more events, catastrophes and trials than any other. Die Welt von Gestern [The World of Yesterday] was therefore intended to recount not his own, but the destiny of an entire generation, which is reflected in the text in many ways. Zweig omitted many details about his private life entirely, such as his marriages or friendships with people who were not famous for example. He only retold personal episodes which he regarded as part of his life as a public figure.

In 16 chapters Stefan Zweig then spans the decades from the late Austrian-Hungarian Empire to the outbreak of the Second World War. He gives insights into social life in fin de siècle Vienna, a polyglot melting pot with its obvious double moral standards. He retells his years in school, at university, his travels, encounters with famous intellectuals and writers and his first literary success. But the ‘world of security’, as he called it, increasingly dissolved before his eyes, peaking in the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. During the war, he served at the Vienna War Press Agency, before he moved to Switzerland in 1917 as a declared pacifist. After the war, peaceful and successful years followed before the National Socialists rose to power. Zweig’s account concludes with Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939.

English translation

Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday, trans. by Anthea Bell (London: Pushkin Press, 2011)

Further Reading

Matti Bunzl, ‘Modes of Nostalgia and Figurations of ‘Austria’ in the Exil(Auto)Biographien of Richard Beer-Hofmann and Stefan Zweig’, in Austria in Literature, ed. by Donald G. Daviau (Riverside: Ariadne Press, 2000), pp. 48-59

Georg Iggers, ‘Some Introductory Observations on Stefan Zweig’s World of Yesterday’, in The World of Yesterday's Humanist Today. Proceedings of the Stefan Zweig Symposium, ed. by Marion Sonnenfeld (New York: State University of New York Press, 1983), pp. 1-9

Wilma Iggers, ‘The World of Yesterday in the View of an Intellectual Historian’, in The World of Yesterday's Humanist Today. Proceedings of the Stefan Zweig Symposium, ed. by Marion Sonnenfeld (New York: State University of New York Press, 1983), pp. 10-19

Donald A. Prater, ‘Stefan Zweig and the Vienna of Yesterday’, in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna and Its Legacy: Essays in Honor of Donald G. Daviau, ed. by Jeffrey B. Berlin, Jorun B. Johns, and Richard H. Lawson (Vienna: Edition Atelier, 1993), pp. 317-36

Robert S. Wistrich, ‘Stefan Zweig and the World of Yesterday’, in Stefan Zweig Reconsidered. New Perspectives on his Literary and Biographical Writings, ed. by Mark H. Gelber (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2007), pp. 59-77