Stefan Zweig, the literary genius incapable of love | Entertainment | The USA Print

Stefan Zweig, the literary genius incapable of love

Who hasn’t read something by Stefan Zweig? And yet, there is no updated biography with the aim of reaching the general public that explains, at the same time, his work and that literary genius. Luis Fernando Moreno Claros (Cáceres, 1961), doctor in Philosophy from the University of Salamanca, has remedied this deficiency in his biography Stefan Zweig. Life and work of a giant of literature ( Harp). “I, who publish in Acantilado ( Schopenhauer. A biography ), he always insisted to the publisher that Zweig’s works should be accompanied by an introduction, some notes, a context…”.

Because it is not easy to grasp a character who avoided explaining his most intimate feelings, who was born into a rich family, lived with ease and detachment, traveled halfway around the world, was fiercely independent, gave himself in life (until his suicide, in Persepolis, Brazil) to his literary work, fled from dogmatism, was never a propagandist or political activist and was, without a doubt, a gentleman among the illustrious artists of his time, while he had difficulty not losing control of oratory, which he mastered so much, when there was a woman involved. And yet, women were his most devoted readers, as if he had known how to read their souls and fix them in the texts, with a punctilious and clear style, the result of continuous revision. Read their souls or, better, their passions, their sexual desires, to which they also had the right, like men.

“Zweig gave visibility to the sexual desire of women and that was then a taboo for the time”

“He understood women better than men, at least from a literary point of view, and he strives to give visibility to women. That is one of his achievements and in the stories, he thought of a female audience. He gave visibility, for example, to women’s sexual desire, which was taboo at that time –Moreno specifies–. Women had to go from home to mass, or those who were big bourgeois had to take care of the children, while the husband went out with his mistresses. The woman was a person with whom one could only procreate, not feel sexual enjoyment and for the woman to feel it was like something forbidden. Zweig is advanced for his time in this sense.” Does it place the woman in the foreground? “Yes, women felt represented. They were in the background, especially in marriage. Zweig is very critical of marriage and he presents men, husbands, as very stupid.”

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Stefan Zweig, with Lotte Altmann

Stefan Zweig, with Lotte Altmann

Photo provided by Arpa publishing house

And that’s why you still like it so much? “The philosopher Javier Gomá, a close friend of mine, told me that Zweig is a writer for young people. And it’s true, when we are young, those stories attract us a lot because they talk about very strong passions. The sexual drives, which are there, in most of these most famous stories, such as Twenty-four hours in the life of a woman . Because Zweig does not talk about love in his stories. It is very curious. Zweig’s characters do not fall in love. What they do is desire others. It is the sexual drive that is there, very powerful, very strong,” analyzes Moreno.

Was Zweig ever in love? Moreno, who is a torrent of exposition when talking about the literary titan, remains silent for a few seconds in the telephone interview to The vanguard : “I do not think so. No no no. Zweig was a very cold person, very cold emotionally. He was very focused on himself. It took him a long time to be with women, according to his brother. He had a time as a gallant and conquering gentleman, very much from that time because he was attractive, he had a lot of money and it was very easy for people with money and attractive people to be like ladies’ men, but he always went with girls of a lower social category. . He certainly didn’t have great loves. And the love for Friderike, no… it was Friederike who fell in love with him”.

“Zweig was perhaps afraid of knowing himself”

If we had to paraphrase Ortega y Gasset, we could say that Stefan Zweig talks more about his circumstances than about himself: “Indeed. “He talks more about the circumstance than about himself,” explains Moreno. The self is there, but disappeared. It is not known what he thought and what he felt. I think that deep down he could be a cold man, a little superficial in the sense that he did not talk about himself, perhaps because he was afraid of getting to know himself. Then he was a man too who had many, many emotional ups and downs. He suddenly he was sad, suddenly he was happy. There is a letter in which he says, I have gone to I don’t know where because I have to be alone, I am locked in this story. Then in another letter he says, well, I’ve gone to
Marseille, I’ve already started walking the streets, I’ve visited a cabaret, I’m already happy. He doesn’t analyze why that happens to him, he just says, well,
Some days I’m like this, other days I’m like this.

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Friderike María von Winternitz was his first wife and the person who went out of her way to provide him with the right space and environment so that he would not worry about anything other than his creative work: reading and writing like a man possessed. Friderike – “she ended up becoming a housekeeper for everything” – allowed him more or less furtive encounters with other women and a “torrible” – the adjective is Zweig’s own – romance with Marcelle, in Paris, “with whom he would have gone to live if it had not been for the First World War,” says Moreno. He even caught Zweig in full action with Lotte Altmann, then an assistant, but who became his second wife, “also completely dedicated”, younger but very sick with asthma, who was the one who committed suicide with him, in 1942, after ingesting Veronal. In The world of yesterday, the autobiographical book in which he avoids talking about himself, Zweig does not dedicate even a few lines to them. “It’s something sad, yes,” admits Moreno.

“His stories attract us a lot because they talk about the passions, the sexual drives that young people feel”

Zweig felt his world collapsed with the start of the Great War. “There begins his decline, although curiously it is after the Second World War, when his period of greatest success begins. But something had broken in the First World War. I no longer experienced success as something pleasant; Being constantly in everyone’s sights, that bothered him. He wrote to his friends and said: ‘I would like to be a nobody, not be successful, not have my name known…’”.

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He lived so much for himself and his work that some critics criticized him for not reacting with determination or reacting late to criticism of the war or Nazism. “He wants to stay on the sidelines, but he realizes what is happening in the world. He sees that the Jews are going to have a very bad time, they are persecuting them… ”. But he is not a politician or an agitator of consciences: “he was a man who lived very well, he lived from literature and for literature. Politics was something that fell on him, in a terrible way.”

And, despite this, as Moreno explains in his work, “it symbolizes the resistance of the individual against totalitarian collectivism” and “the autonomy of those who create and live in freedom, detached from ideological impositions.”

A suicide that does not explain all his work

“He had a lot of emotional ups and downs, he was also depressed and, of course, suicide is a depressed person.
In many of his stories, the protagonist or the
protagonist ends up committing suicide. He has had a desire there, since he was young, to admit suicide as something that was there, that was probable,” explains the author of this biography. “The drive for that death is very strong in Zweig. His suicide has been recounted very exhaustively and I didn’t want to get into that, because Zweig has also been seen many times since his suicide backwards. As if he had become famous through suicide and for me that is not a reason for fame. Suicide is the final act that for me is not the most important. It is very important, but not enough to read Zweig from the point of view of the one who committed suicide. I have left that topic a little aside, I did not want to go into depth there. It seems like a very tragic thing to me. I had a hard time when I wrote, when I read about it.

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