Stefan Zweig
Zweig c. 1912
Born(1881-11-28)28 November 1881
Vienna, Austria-Hungary (present-day Austria)
Died22 February 1942(1942-02-22) (aged 60)
Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Alma materUniversity of Vienna (PhD, 1904)
  • Novelist
  • playwright
  • librettist
  • journalist
  • biographer
  • (m. 1920; div. 1938)
  • Lotte Altmann
    (m. 1939)

Stefan Zweig (/zwɡ, swɡ/;[1] German: [ˈʃtɛ.fan t͡svaɪ̯k] ; 28 November 1881 – 22 February 1942) was an Austrian writer. At the height of his literary career, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was one of the most widely translated and popular writers in the world.[2]

Zweig was raised in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He wrote historical studies of famous literary figures, such as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoevsky in Drei Meister (1920; Three Masters), and decisive historical events in Decisive Moments in History (1927). He wrote biographies of Joseph Fouché (1929), Mary Stuart (1935) and Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman, 1932), among others. Zweig's best-known fiction includes Letter from an Unknown Woman (1922), Amok (1922), Fear (1925), Confusion of Feelings (1927), Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman (1927), the psychological novel Ungeduld des Herzens (Beware of Pity, 1939), and The Royal Game (1941).

In 1934, as a result of the Nazi Party's rise in Germany and the establishment of the Standestaat regime in Austria, Zweig emigrated to England and then, in 1940, moved briefly to New York and then to Brazil, where he settled. In his final years, he would declare himself in love with the country, writing about it in the book Brazil, Land of the Future. Nonetheless, as the years passed Zweig became increasingly disillusioned and despairing at the future of Europe, and he and his wife Lotte were found dead of a barbiturate overdose in their house in Petrópolis on 23 February 1942; they had died the previous day. His work has been the basis for several film adaptations. Zweig's memoir, Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday, 1942), is noted for its description of life during the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Franz Joseph I and has been called the most famous book on the Habsburg Empire.[3]


Zweig (standing) in Vienna with his brother Alfred (1879–1977), c. 1900

Zweig was born in Vienna, the son of Ida Brettauer (1854–1938), a daughter of a Jewish banking family, and Moritz Zweig (1845–1926), a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer.[4] He was related to the Czech writer Egon Hostovský, who described him as "a very distant relative";[5] some sources describe them as cousins.[citation needed]

Zweig studied philosophy at the University of Vienna and in 1904 earned a doctoral degree with a thesis on "The Philosophy of Hippolyte Taine". Religion did not play a central role in his education. "My mother and father were Jewish only through accident of birth", Zweig said in an interview. Yet he did not renounce his Jewish faith and wrote repeatedly on Jews and Jewish themes, as in his story Buchmendel. Zweig had a warm relationship with Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, whom he met when Herzl was still literary editor of the Neue Freie Presse, then Vienna's main newspaper; Herzl accepted for publication some of Zweig's early essays.[6] Zweig, a committed cosmopolitan,[7] believed in internationalism and in Europeanism, as The World of Yesterday, his autobiography, makes clear: "I was sure in my heart from the first of my identity as a citizen of the world."[8] According to Amos Elon, Zweig called Herzl's book Der Judenstaat an "obtuse text, [a] piece of nonsense".[9]

Zweig served in the Archives of the Ministry of War and adopted a pacifist stance like his friend Romain Rolland, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1915. Zweig married Friderike Maria von Winternitz (born Burger) in 1920; they divorced in 1938. As Friderike Zweig she published a book on her former husband after his death.[10] She later also published a picture book on Zweig.[11] In the late summer of 1939, Zweig married his secretary Elisabet Charlotte "Lotte" Altmann in Bath, England.[12] Zweig's secretary in Salzburg from November 1919 to March 1938 was Anna Meingast (13 May 1881, Vienna – 17 November 1953, Salzburg).[13]

Street named after Zweig in Laranjeiras, Rio de Janeiro
A page from the Black Book (Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., page 231 Z). Zweig is the second-to-last on the page, along with his full London address.

As a Jew, Zweig's high profile did not shield him from the threat of persecution. In 1934, following Hitler's rise to power in Germany and the establishment of the Standestaat, an authoritarian political regime now known as "Austrofascism", Zweig left Austria for England, living first in London, then from 1939 in Bath. Because of the swift advance of Hitler's troops westwards, and the threat of arrest or worse – as part of the preparations for Operation Seelöwe a list of persons to be detained immediately after conquest of the British Isles, the so-called Black Book, had been assembled and Zweig was on page 231, with his London address fully mentioned – Zweig and his second wife crossed the Atlantic to the United States, settling in 1940 in New York City; they lived for two months as guests of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, before renting a house in Ossining, New York.

On 22 August 1940, they moved again to Petrópolis, a German-colonized mountain town 68 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro.[14] There, he wrote the book Brazil, Land of the Future and developed a close friendship with Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral.[15] Zweig, feeling increasingly depressed about the situation in Europe and the future for humanity, wrote in a letter to author Jules Romains, "My inner crisis consists in that I am not able to identify myself with the me of passport, the self of exile".[16] He had been despairing at the future of Europe and its culture. "I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labour meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth", he wrote.[17] On 23 February 1942, the Zweigs were found dead of a barbiturate overdose in their house in the city of Petrópolis, holding hands.[18][19]

Barbiturates from Bayer in glass tubes with cork caps - 10 tablets probably produced around 1940

The Zweigs' house in Brazil was later turned into a cultural centre and is now known as Casa Stefan Zweig.


Zweig was a prominent writer in the 1920s and 1930s, befriending Arthur Schnitzler and Sigmund Freud.[20] He was extremely popular in the United States, South America and Europe, and remains so in continental Europe;[2] however, he was largely ignored by the British public.[21] His fame in America had diminished until the 1990s, when there began an effort on the part of several publishers (notably Pushkin Press, Hesperus Press, and The New York Review of Books) to get Zweig back into print in English.[22] Plunkett Lake Press has reissued electronic versions of his non-fiction works.[23] Since that time there has been a marked resurgence and a number of Zweig's books are back in print.[24]

Critical opinion of his oeuvre is strongly divided between those who praise his humanism, simplicity and effective style,[22][25] and those who criticize his literary style as poor, lightweight and superficial.[21] In a review entitled "Vermicular Dither", German polemicist Michael Hofmann scathingly attacked the Austrian's work. Hofmann opined that "Zweig just tastes fake. He's the Pepsi of Austrian writing." Even the author's suicide note, Hofmann suggested, induces "the irritable rise of boredom halfway through it, and the sense that he doesn't mean it, his heart isn't in it (not even in his suicide)".[26]

Zweig is best known for his novellas (notably The Royal Game, Amok, and Letter from an Unknown Woman – which was filmed in 1948 by Max Ophüls), novels (Beware of Pity, Confusion of Feelings, and the posthumously published The Post Office Girl) and biographies (notably of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Ferdinand Magellan, and Mary, Queen of Scots, and also the posthumously published one on Balzac). At one time his works were published without his consent in English under the pseudonym "Stephen Branch" (a translation of his real name) when anti-German sentiment was running high. His 1932 biography of Queen Marie Antoinette was adapted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a 1938 film starring Norma Shearer.

Zweig's memoir,[27][28][29] The World of Yesterday, was completed in 1942 one day before he died by suicide. It has been widely discussed as a record of "what it meant to be alive between 1881 and 1942" in central Europe; the book has attracted both critical praise[22] and hostile dismissal.[26]

Surviving copy of Zweig's novel Amok (1922) burned by Nazis

Zweig acknowledged his debt to psychoanalysis. In a letter dated 8 September 1926, he wrote to Freud, "Psychology is the great business of my life". He went on explaining that Freud had considerable influence on writers such as Marcel Proust, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, giving them a lesson in "courage" and helping them to overcome their inhibitions. "Thanks to you, we see many things. – Thanks to you we say many things which otherwise we would not have seen nor said." He claimed autobiography, in particular, had become "more clear-sighted and audacious".[30]

Zweig enjoyed a close association with Richard Strauss and provided the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). Strauss famously defied the Nazi regime by refusing to sanction the removal of Zweig's name from the programme[31] for the work's première on 24 June 1935 in Dresden. As a result, Goebbels refused to attend as planned, and the opera was banned after three performances. Zweig later collaborated with Joseph Gregor to provide Strauss with the libretto for one other opera, Daphne, in 1937. At least[32] one other work by Zweig received a musical setting: the pianist and composer Henry Jolles, who like Zweig had fled to Brazil to escape the Nazis, composed a song, "Último poema de Stefan Zweig",[33] based on "Letztes Gedicht", which Zweig wrote on the occasion of his 60th birthday in November 1941.[34] During his stay in Brazil, Zweig wrote Brasilien, Ein Land der Zukunft (Brazil, A Land of the Future) which consisted in a collection of essays on the history and culture of his newly adopted country.

Zweig was a passionate collector of manuscripts. He corresponded at length with Hungarian musicologist Gisela Selden-Goth, often discussing their shared interest in collecting original music scores.[34] There are important Zweig collections at the British Library, at the State University of New York at Fredonia and at the National Library of Israel. The British Library's Stefan Zweig Collection was donated to the library by his heirs in May 1986. It specialises in autograph music manuscripts, including works by Bach, Haydn, Wagner, and Mahler. It has been described as "one of the world's greatest collections of autograph manuscripts".[35] One particularly precious item is Mozart's "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke"[36] – that is, the composer's own handwritten thematic catalogue of his works.

The 1993–1994 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour.

Zweig has been credited with being one of the novelists who contributed to the emergence of what would later be called the Habsburg Myth.[37]


Amok (1922)

The dates mentioned below are the dates of first publication in German.


Biographies and historical texts





The 1933 Austrian-German drama film The Burning Secret directed by Robert Siodmak was based on Zweig's short story Brennendes Geheimnis. The 1988 remake of the same film Burning Secret was directed by Andrew Birkin and starred Klaus Maria Brandauer and Faye Dunaway.

Letter from an Unknown Woman was filmed in 1948 by Max Ophüls.

Beware of Pity was adapted into a 1946 film with the same title, directed by Maurice Elvey.[41]

Letter from an Unknown Woman was filmed in 1962 by Salah Abu Seif.

An adaptation by Stephen Wyatt of Beware of Pity was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 2011.[42]

The 2012 Brazilian film The Invisible Collection, directed by Bernard Attal, is based on Zweig's short story of the same title.[43]

The 2013 French film A Promise (Une promesse) is based on Zweig's novella Journey into the Past (Reise in die Vergangenheit).

The 2013 Swiss film Mary Queen of Scots, directed by Thomas Imbach, is based on Zweig's Maria Stuart.[44]

The end-credits for Wes Anderson's 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel say that the film was inspired in part by Zweig's novels. Anderson said that he had "stolen" from Zweig's novels Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl in writing the film, and it features actors Tom Wilkinson as The Author, a character based loosely on Zweig, and Jude Law as his younger, idealised self seen in flashbacks. Anderson also said that the film's protagonist, the concierge Gustave H., played by Ralph Fiennes, was based on Zweig. In the film's opening sequence, a teenage girl visits a shrine for The Author, which includes a bust of him wearing Zweig-like spectacles and celebrated as his country's "National Treasure".[45]

The 2017 Austrian-German-French film Vor der Morgenröte (Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe) chronicles Stefan Zweig's travels in the North and South Americas, trying to come to terms with his exile from home.

The 2018 American short film Crepúsculo by Clemy Clarke is based on Zweig's short story "A Story Told in Twilight" and relocated to a quinceañera in 1980s New York.[46]

TV film La Ruelle au clair de lune (1988) by Édouard Molinaro is an adaptation of Zweig's short-story Moonbeam Alley.[47]

Schachnovelle, translated as The Royal Game and as Chess Story, was the inspiration for the 1960 Gerd Oswald film Brainwashed,[48] as well as for two Czechoslovakian films—the 1980 Královská hra (The Royal Game) and Šach mat (Checkmate), made for television in 1964[49]—and for the 2021 Philipp Stölzl film Chess Story.[50][51]

See also


  1. ^ "Zweig". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b Kavanagh, Julie (Spring 2009). "Stefan Zweig: The Secret Superstar". Intelligent Life. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012.
  3. ^ Giorgio Manacorda (2010) Nota bibliografica in Joseph Roth, La Marcia di Radetzky, Newton Classici quotation: "Stefan Zweig, l'autore del più famoso libro sull'Impero asburgico, Die Welt von Gestern
  4. ^ Prof.Dr. Klaus Lohrmann "Jüdisches Wien. Kultur-Karte" (2003), Mosse-Berlin Mitte gGmbH (Verlag Jüdische Presse)
  5. ^ Egon Hostovský: Vzpomínky, studie a dokumenty o jeho díle a osudu, Sixty-Eight Publishers, 1974
  6. ^ Friedman, Gabe (17 January 2015). "Meet the Austrian-Jewish novelist who inspired Wes Anderson's 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'".
  7. ^ Epstein, Joseph (June 2019). "Stefan Zweig, European Man". First Things. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  8. ^ Zweig, Stefan (1942). "Chapter IX: The First Hours of the War of 1914". The World of Yesterday. Chapter IX, paragraph 20 beginning "As a result": Kindle location code 3463: Plunkett Lake Press (ebook).((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ Elon, Amos (2002). The Pity of it All. New York: Metropolitan Books. p. 287. ISBN 9780805059649.
  10. ^ Zweig, Friderike (1948). Stefan Zweig – Wie ich ihn erlebte. Berlin: F. A. Herbig Verlag.
  11. ^ Zweig, Friderike (1961). Stefan Zweig : Eine Bildbiographie. München: Kindler.
  12. ^ "Index entry for marriage of Altmann, Elisabet C., Spouse:Zweig, Registration district: Bath Register volume & page nbr: 5c, 1914". Transcription of England and Wales national marriage registrations index 1837–1983. ONS. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  13. ^ Thuswaldner, Werner (14 December 2000). "Wichtiges zu Stefan Zweig: Das Salzburger Literaturarchiv erhielt eine bedeutende Schenkung von Wilhelm Meingast" [Important to Stefan Zweig: The Salzburg Literature Archive received a significant donation from Wilhelm Meingast]. Salzburger Nachrichten (in German). Archived from the original on 15 March 2014. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  14. ^ Dias Carneiro, Júlia (30 April 2009). "Revivendo o país do futuro de Stefan Zweig" [Reviving the country of the future according to Stefan Zweig] (in Portuguese). Deutsche Welle. Archived from the original on 9 October 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  15. ^ Lawrence, Edward (2018). ""In This Dark Hour": Stefan Zweig and Historical Displacement in Brazil, 1941–1942". Journal of Austrian Studies. 51 (3): 1–20. ISSN 2165-669X. JSTOR 26575129. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  16. ^ Prochnik, George (6 February 2017). "When It's Too Late to Stop Fascism, According to Stefan Zweig". The New Yorker. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  17. ^ Banville, John (27 February 2009). "Ruined souls". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  18. ^ "Stefan Zweig, Wife End Lives In Brazil". The New York Times. The United Press. 23 February 1942. Retrieved 28 November 2017. Stefan Zweig, Wife End Lives In Brazil; Austrian-Born Author Left a Note Saying He Lacked the Strength to Go on – Author and Wife Die in Compact: Zweig and Wife Commit Suicide
  19. ^ "Milestones, Mar. 2, 1942". Time. 2 March 1942. Archived from the original on 14 October 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2017. Died. Stefan Zweig, 60, Austrian-born novelist, biographer, essayist (Amok, Adepts in Self-Portraiture, Marie Antoinette), and his wife, Elizabeth; by poison; in Petropolis, Brazil. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, Zweig turned from casual globe-trotting to literature after World War I, wrote prolifically, smoothly, successfully in many forms. His books banned by the Nazis, he fled to Britain in 1938 with the arrival of German troops, became a British subject in 1940, moved to the U.S. the same year, to Brazil the next. He was never outspoken against Nazism, believed artists and writers should be independent of politics. Friends in Brazil said he left a suicide note explaining that he was old, a man without a country, too weary to begin a new life. His last book: Brazil: Land of the Future.
  20. ^ Fowles, John (1981). Introduction to "The Royal Game". New York: Obelisk. pp. ix.
  21. ^ a b Walton, Stuart (26 March 2010). "Stefan Zweig? Just a pedestrian stylist". The Guardian. London.
  22. ^ a b c Lezard, Nicholas (5 December 2009). "The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  23. ^ "Plunkett Lake Press". Stefan Zweig.
  24. ^ Rohter, Larry. "Stefan Zweig, Austrian Novelist, Rises Again". The New York Times. 28 May 2014
  25. ^ Liukkonen, Petri (2008). "Stefan Zweig". Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 3 February 2015 – via
  26. ^ a b Hofmann, Michael (2010). "Vermicular Dither". London Review of Books. 32 (2): 9–12. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  27. ^ Jones, Lewis (11 January 2010), "The World of Yesterday", The Telegraph, archived from the original on 12 January 2022, retrieved 2 November 2015
  28. ^ Lezard, Nicholas (4 December 2009), "The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig", The Guardian, retrieved 2 November 2015
  29. ^ Brody, Richard (14 March 2014), "Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a Longing for the Past", The New Yorker, retrieved 2 November 2015
  30. ^ Sigmund Freud, Stefan Zweig, Correspondance, Editions Rivages, Paris, 1995, ISBN 978-2869309654
  31. ^ Richard Strauss/Stefan Zweig: BriefWechsel, 1957, translated as A Confidential Matter, 1977
  32. ^ "Author: Stefan Zweig (1881–1942)". REC Music Foundation. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  33. ^ Musica Reanimata of Berlin, Henry Jolles accessed 25 January 2009
  34. ^ a b Biographical sketch of Stefan Zweig at Casa Stefan Zweig accessed 28 September 2008
  35. ^ "The Zweig Music Collection". Archived from the original on 11 October 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2009.
  36. ^ Mozart's "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke" Archived 7 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine at the British Library Online Gallery accessed 14 October 2009
  37. ^ Thompson, Helen (2020). "The Habsburg Myth and the European Union". In Duina, Francesco; Merand, Frédéric (eds.). Europe's Malaise: The Long View. Vol. 27. Emerald Group Publishing. pp. 45–66. doi:10.1108/S0895-993520200000027005. ISBN 978-1-83909-042-4. ISSN 0895-9935. S2CID 224991526. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
  38. ^ "Die unsichtbare sammlung". Open Library. OL 6308795M. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  39. ^ "Stefan Zweig." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. 21 November 2010.
  40. ^ "Shooting Stars: Ten Historical Miniatures". Pushkin Press. 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  41. ^ "Beware of Pity (1946)". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012.
  42. ^ "Classic Serial: Stefan Zweig – Beware of Pity". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  43. ^ "The Invisible Collection (A Coleção Invisível): Rio Review". The Hollywood Reporter. 20 October 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  44. ^ Mary Queen of Scots (2013) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  45. ^ Anderson, Wes (8 March 2014). "'I stole from Stefan Zweig': Wes Anderson on the author who inspired his latest movie". The Daily Telegraph (Interview). Interviewed by George Prochnik. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  46. ^ Crepúsculo (2018) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  47. ^ La ruelle au clair de lune. Auteur Production Group. OCLC 494237410.
  48. ^ Brainwashed (1960)
  49. ^ "Sach [Šach] mat". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  50. ^ "Schachnovelle". IMDb.
  51. ^ Smith, Kyle (12 January 2023). "'Chess Story' Review: Stefan Zweig's Novella of Playing the Nazis' Game". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 20 March 2023.

Further reading


Electronic editions