13 June 2007

Stefan Zweig - Fantastic Night and other stories

This is why I love having such a large library. It's the discoveries - although Zweig can hardly be called a discovery, having been recommended to me by more than one person, but there's still a delight in reading something new that startles you with its excellence, and leaves you refreshed.

Zweig is a marvellous stylist, but he's more than that. There's a precision to his emotional description that's rare, and sets him among the top writers, in a line from Flaubert and Maupassant through Proust. He has a soft irony, but he's mostly concerned with deep passions, and what it is to be alive.

Each of the stories in this collection is superb. The most notable, to me, is the second, Letter from an unknown woman, which was made into a film by Max Ophuls, which I own and watched recently. Ophuls adapted both Zweig and Maupassant (in Le Plaisir), and his polished style and concern for emotional subtlety made him the most appropriate director for these authors.

Zweig likes to experiment with narrative techniques, trying to find credible ways of having a first person narrator, through which he can achieve a greater intensity in his emotional depth than through a third person view. All five of the stories have first person narration, and four of them primarily concern that narrator. He uses this to explore intense emotions - of sudden passion (Fantastic Night), unrequited love (Letter...) - and also more subtle ones, of nostalgia and yearning (The fowler snared)

The last two stories concern obsessives, a blind print collector and a bibliophile, both brought down by the post-war situation in Austria (which Zweig documented), and both are very poignant and wonderfully told.

I have a few more Zweigs here, and I've just ordered 4 more from amazon, all in impeccable Pushkin Press editions. My pleasure in reading him is similar to when I discovered Hoffmann a couple of years ago.



woodscolt said...

I've been meaning to get round to Stefan Zweig, so thanks for this - it's always good to have a recommendation.

Hoffmann (you mean ETA?) is brilliant. Have you read Freud's rather strange essay inspired by The Sandman? Called The Uncanny, I think.

Phil said...

No, not read the Freud. Hoffmann is brilliant, it was a great discovery for me. Have you read Tomcat Murr? I was put onto Hoffmann by Andrew Crumey, who I've already recommended to you. I like the phenomenon of 'Hoffmania' which was prevalent in Europe in mid-19th C. You can see his influence on Stevenson, Poe, etc.

Yes, do read Zweig. I've no doubt he's great in German, but the Pushkin translations are excellent.

woodscolt said...

My German's not quite good enough to read anything complex in so I tend to read German books with the English translation next to me. Will have a look in the library for Fantasic night.