The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 28, 2011

November 28, 1942

Stefan Zweig (November 28, 1881 to February 22, 1942) was a Austrian writer, paticularly remembered for his biographies of literary figures. He was far more famous during his lifetime than he is now. Here is a description of Zweig excerpted from the introduction to a reissue (2010) of his autobiography (The World of Yesterday, published first in German in 1942.) The introduction is written by André Aciman:

Stefan Zweig was a cosmopolite, a prototypi­cally Pan-European emancipated Jew, who managed to shed all belief systems with the exception of pacifism. To this day he remains, paradoxically enough, Europe's most grace­fully defeated and disabused optimist. As of the early 1920s, he had picked up the menac­ing rumbles in Adolf Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. By 1933 he showed suffi­cient prescience to see that life was no longer viable for Jews in the German-speaking world and soon moved to England.
.....Distressed by the war in Europe, he moved to the United States, then settled in a villa in Brazil, where, in 1942...he and his second wife took their own lives. ...for the startling reason, as he put it in his suicide note, that he simply didn't have it in him to "make a new beginning.
" .....

[Zweig in his heyday] appears everywhere, knows everyone, and is translated into more languages than any of his contempo­raries. Just about everything he put his mind to is stamped with the telltale ease, polish, and effortless grace of people whose success, liter­ary and otherwise, seemed given from the day they were born or picked up a pen. He never quarreled with his tools; his tools were happy to oblige. He didn't spend nights searching for the mot juste; the mot juste simply came. Agony was not his style. In his work there is not one trace of difficulty overcome. Difficulty never came. There is—and one spots it from the very first sentence in almost everything he wrote—an unmistakable lightness of touch that makes him at once solemn and sociable, humble and pa­trician, scholar and raconteur.
The irony is sel­dom overblown, the drama never overstretched, and the psychology, for all its unsparing, dis­quieting probes into "spiritual upheavals … unknown and unsuspected," remains spot-on and mischievously subtle. You won't hear the lumpish footfalls of over-the-top sorrow or pick up the false accents of fin de siècle melancholia. Zweig is firm and fluent. Everything in its time, everything just right, never a false move, not one sleight of hand. The story almost writes itself, from beginning to end. He'll stop either when he has nothing more to say or when it's no longer safe or necessary to go any further....

Zweig was an incredibly prolific writer; here are just a few titles, with the dates of the original German publication:

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman, (1932)
Mental Healers: Franz Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Sigmund Freud, (1932)
Erasmus of Rotterdam, (1934)
Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles (1935)
Brazil, Land of the Future (1941)

Zweig's biography, titled Paul Verlaine, was first published in 1913, here is a bit from it:

....[A]n evil influence had broken into his life, perhaps the most destructive, "the one unpardonable vice," as he himself confesses. Verlaine began to drink. At first it was bravado, recklessness, persuasion; later it was desire, torture, flight from the qualms of his conscience, "the forgetfulness, sought in execrable potions."

He drank absinthe, a sweetish, greenish liquid, which is false as cat's eyes and treacherous and murderous like a diseased harlot. Baudelaire's hashish is comprehensible. It was the magician who raised fantastic landscapes, it quieted the nerves, it was the poet of the poet. Verlaine's absinthe is only destructive and obliterating, .... Even when the high-arched churches and the figures of the Madonnas no longer offered him a place of refuge, " the atrocious green sorceress " was still his only comforter, into whose arms he willingly cast himself..

Thus Zweig on Verlaine in 1913. I wonder if it is possible that the wars disabused Zweig, not of his optimism, but of his pessimism.

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