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Leopard

Leopard

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The Invisible Collection , novellas by Stefan Zweig

Die Unsichtbare Sammlung. Novellen - Stefan Zweig

 


[Zweig's works have been translated into many languages, including English.]

 

 

For me, the greatest pleasure in Stefan Zweig's (1881-1942) work is his remarkable empathy and insight into human beings, demonstrated in his fictions by profoundly drawn characters who rise bodily and vividly before the reader's wondering eyes. Written in a transparent German with a pleasant and slightly old fashioned hue, the novella's plots(*) are usually secondary, are usually just mechanisms for the discovery and representation of character.

 

These characters are, often enough, extremists, their character traits exaggerated for effect; whether Zweig needed this effect to invigorate his imagination or he purposefully used it to attract readers I don't know. (He was commercially very successful.) The young man in Verwirrung der Gefühle(**) who, afforded his first freedom when he went to Berlin to study at university, went from a total submersion in drink and sex to an equally total dedication to a charismatic professor and his studies; the professor who vacillated between a nearly impossible inspirational magnetism and a cold, gray lifelessness; the totally obsessed collector of art prints in Die unsichtbare Sammlung;(***) the totally monomaniacal fount of all antiquarian publication knowledge in Buchmendel;(****)  the totally monomaniacal chessmaster in Schachnovelle.(5*) You see the emerging pattern.(6*)

 

Such extremists exist, of course, but, fortunately, they can be seen also as heightened versions of much more common types of person - the young man trying to find himself; the tired and disillusioned professor warming himself on the admiring radiations of his students; the collector; the specialist; the powerfully gifted in one particular aspect alone... 

 

Although I had to whisper to myself occasionally that the idealized extremes were just artistic gestures, there were many more moments when I exclaimed while reading these stories "That is it exactly!" or "God, do I remember that!" or "Bullseye!" 

 

Though exaggerated, how truthful the inexperienced, insecure, hero worshipping student was; how convincing and poignant the necessarily deeply closeted homosexual professor, whose life had been so profoundly deformed by his malinformed and despising environment; how precise the insight into the self-made nature of our interests, obsessions and illusions in the collector and antiquarian and chessmaster.

 

There is yet more to be found in Zweig's works, like the consequences for ordinary people of the German hyperinflation in the 1920's in Die unsichtbare Sammlung and those for alien citizens of enemy states during World War I in Buchmendel, but, for a change, I'll keep this review (relatively) short. Just pick up, particularly, Schachnovelle or Verwirrung der Gefühle and watch a master of empathy at work.

 

(*) With the exception of Ungeduld des Herzens, Zweig published no novels during his lifetime.

 

(**) Translated with the title Confusion.

 

(***) The Invisible Collection

 

(****)  Buchmendel

 

(5*) Chess Story

 

(6*) Of course, this is a pattern with exceptions. For example, in the third story in this collection, Unvermutete Bekanntschaft mit einem Handwerk, the reader remains in the author's mind as he watches the crowds in the streets of Paris, slowly recognizes a pickpocket at work, then excitedly follows him around the city. This rings so true, at least until I sense his knack for heightening exert itself, that I have to believe that the story is based upon a real incident. Here one observes Zweig's empathic process at work as he increasingly identifies with the pickpocket to the point that he sets up analogues between the Handwerk of a pickpocket and that of a writer, and, when the inevitable occurs, is more concerned with the nabbed in flagranti pickpocket than with his own wallet.