Stefan Zweig


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Austrian biographer, essayist, and playwright.

Born in Vienna into a well-to-do Jewish family, Zweig studied at the universities of Berlin and Vienna, travelled extensively, and during his lifetime cultivated a wide friendship with fellow artists and intellectuals (including Gorki, Rilke, Romain Rolland, Rodin, Toscanini, Freud, and Richard Strauss). He served in World War I and emerged from it a pacifist. Between the wars he lived mainly in Salzburg; in 1934 he went into exile, living briefly in England and New York before moving to Brazil. A humanist, Zweig lived long enough to see the world he knew utterly destroyed. In despair he and his wife committed suicide near Rio de Janeiro in 1942.

Zweig's writing covers a wide range of genres. His early work includes translations of Verlaine, Baudelaire, and Émile Verhaeren and collections of his own romantic poetry (1901, 1906), which was indebted to von Hofmannsthal. The influence of Freud's work can be seen in his short-story collections: Erstes Erlebnis (1911), Amok (1922), and Verwirrung (1927; translated as Conflicts, 1927). He wrote several plays, the earliest, an antiwar play entitled Jeremias (1917), while still in uniform. He translated Jonson's Volpone (1925) and Epicoene (Die schweigsame Frau, 1935, which provided the libretto of the opera by Richard Strauss). His main work of fiction and also his last creative work was Schachnovelle (1942; translated as The Royal Game), in which the chess game is a metaphor for the disintegration of an intellectual being interrogated by the Gestapo.

But Zweig's reputation finally rests on his biographical essays and full-length biographies, which are among the best literary examples of Freud's influence, especially in penetrating the workings of the creative process. The shorter essays, first published in groups, were collected as Die Baumeister der Welt (1934; translated as Master Builders, 1939) and include the lives of Balzac, Dickens, Dostoievsky, Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche, Casanova, Stendhal, and Tolstoy. His longer biographies are Romain Rolland (1921), Marie Antoinette (1932), Maria Stuart (1935), and, perhaps his greatest, Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (1935; translated as Right to Heresy, 1951). A book of ‘historical miniatures’, Sternstunden der Menschheit (1927; translated as The Tide of Fortune, 1955), is concerned with moments that changed history. His autobiography, Die Welt von Gestern (1942; translated as The World of Yesterday, 1943), focuses on Europe before World War I.

Subjects: Literature.

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