Stefan Zweig (November 28, 1881 – February 22, 1942) was an Austrian writer.
Life and work
Zweig was an extremely well-known writer in the 1930s and 1940s. Since his death in 1942 his work has become less known.
Zweig wrote novels and short stories, and several biographies, of which his most famous is probably the one of Mary Stuart. This was published in German as Maria Stuart and in English as (The) Queen of Scots or Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles. At one time his works were published in English under the pseudonym “Stephen Branch” (a translation of his real name), when anti-German sentiment was running high. His biography of Queen Marie-Antoinette was later adapted for a Hollywood movie starring the MGM actress Norma Shearer in the title role.
Born in Vienna, Zweig was the son of Moritz Zweig, a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer, and Ida (Brettauer) Zweig, the daughter of an Italian banking family.
Zweig studied philosophy and the history of literature, and in Vienna has was associated with the avant garde Young Vienna movement. Being a Jew, he fled Austria in 1934. He was famously defended by the composer Richard Strauss who refused to remove Zweig’s name (as librettist) from the posters for the premiere, in Dresden, of his opera Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). This led to Hitler refusing to come to the premiere as planned; the opera was banned after three performances.
Zweig then lived in England (in Bath and London), before moving to the USA. In 1941 he went to Brazil, where he and his second wife Lotte (nee Charlotte E. Altmann) committed suicide together in Petropolis using the barbiturate Veronal, despairing at the future of Europe and its culture. After the fall of Singapore, they believed Nazism would spread over the whole earth. “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.” His book The World of Yesterday is a paean to the European culture he considered lost.
There are significant Zweig collections at the British Library and at Fredonia College, State University of New York (SUNY). The BL Zweig collection, given to the library by its trustees in May 1986, includes a wide range of items of surprising variety and rarity, among them Mozart’s own Verzeichniss, that is, the composer’s own handwritten thematic catalogue of his works.
The similarly named German writer, Stefanie Zweig, is not related, contrary to some reports.
Zweig and Zionism
Jewish religion did not play a central role in his education. “My mother and father were Jewish only through accident of birth,” Zweig said later in an interview. Zweig devoted his early life to aesthetic matters. Although his essays were accepted by the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, literary editor of the Neue Freie Presse, Zweig was not attracted to Herzl’s Jewish nationalism.