Stefan Zweig Biography: Introduction
Stefan Zweig is a man about whom we know much, and sometimes nothing. If it is possible to be a world-renowned writer who traveled around the world with the social elite, and still be a great mystery, then Zweig achieved this. There are thousands of letters written by the man, a large collection of novels, poetry, biographies, interviews, and films based on his writings. He was even kind enough to pen an autobiography. However, despite the large body of work he left behind, his mystique remains. One of his two wives wrote extensively about him after Zweig’s death, and even she acknowledged that no one really knew him. The inside life of Stefan Zweig is as untouchable as the peace he so desperately sought, just before his tragic death.
Zweig grew up in Vienna, at the turn of the 20th century. Coming from a family of great wealth and influence, he wanted for nothing. He had the best schooling that money could buy and, quite literally, could have entered any field he wished. From an early age, however, Zweig became fascinated with history, philosophy, and literature. The world of the writer attracted him most, however. He was obsessed with reading and studying the best writers of his day, and he fastidiously collected writing memorabilia from his literary heroes. He worked tirelessly for hours, days, and years to perfect the craft he would eventually dominate. Zweig had decided he would be a great writer, and no one would stand in his way.
Zweig was fortunate enough to share the company of some of the greatest writers and thinkers of his time, in what many historians call the Golden Age of Vienna. He eventually became a student of Sigmund Freud’s philosophies, and that influence seeped into much of Zweig’s writing. Freud, of course, is one of the most famous of Zweig’s associates, but that list of famous friends is long. It is a star-studded cast, all of whom cast their various colored lights upon his life.
Anything Zweig touched turned to gold. His reputation as a literary great was secured in Europe, South America, and even in the United States. He was the Stephen King of his time. Anyone who read a book, or a newspaper article, was familiar with his name. His exploits across the globe were major news, and he could barely appear anywhere without there being at least a snippet about it in the next day’s newspaper. Zweig led a charmed existence for much of his life and, when he died, it became a sensational news story.
How is it then that his name could become so obscured in less than a hundred years? Though many Europeans still consider his work exceptional, especially in France, he is no longer a household name in the United States, or Great Britain. Though efforts to republish his work are underway, it took a new film, based on his life, to remind many of his existence.
Only something calamitous could have the power to erase from collective memory such a presence as Stefan Zweig. It took a world war to do so.