1 July 2007

Stefan Zweig - Confusion

This is a very deceptive novella. It's a memoir by a retiring privy councillor of his student days, and the influence upon him of one particular tutor. The student, having briefly indulged himself in Berlin instead of studying, is admonished by his father, and drops out to enrol in a provincial university, studying English. There he encounters a tutor of mesmerising charisma, who stimulates him intellectually, and for the first time exposes him to the excitement of study.

The student becomes obsessed with the tutor, and when he finds out that he has never published a planned work on Shakespeare, encourages him to do so by offering to take dictation. Their close collaboration increases the student's admiration, but also complicates it, as he's also attracted to the tutor's young wife.

The student's attraction is clearly platonic - it's made clear that he's attracted to women - but it turns out that that of the tutor for the student is not. The revelation and explanation are handled with a delicacy typical of Zweig, and expressed through the inexperienced eyes of the student.

This story of frustrated homosexual love and repression was published in 1927. Even considering the adventurous environment of 1920s Berlin, homosexuality was a crime in Germany, and remained so until 1968. Zweig's description of the tutor's ordeals - seeking out sex in back streets, marrying a boyish young girl, with whom he can't sustain a physical relationship, suffering taunts and risking blackmail and disbarment - is candid and sympathetic, and perhaps linked to the natural sympathy of a Jewish-German intellectual for other persecuted outsiders.


No comments: