Sunday, February 05, 2012

Memento of an Age

The World of Yesterday
The World of Yesterday

“We who have been hunted through the rapids of life, torn from our former roots, always driven to the end and obliged to begin again, victims and yet also the willing servants of unknown mysterious powers, we for whom comfort has become an old legend and security, a childish dream, have felt tension from pole to pole of our being, the terror of something always new in every fibre. Every hour of our years was linked to the fate of the world. In sorrow and in joy we have lived through time and history far beyond our own small lives, while they knew nothing beyond themselves. Every one of us, therefore, even the least of the human race, knows a thousand times more about reality today than the wisest of our forebears. But nothing was given to us freely; we paid the price in full.”  ― Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday

 A poet, novelist, dramatist and biographer, Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was a brilliant writer, documenting both historical lives and his own. His non-fiction includes literary biographies that are seldom read today, but The World of Yesterday remains in print and is his personal memoir of growing up in fin de siecle Austria and the early years of the twentieth century. Written the year before he died, the book is a testament to his life - one that was formed in a world before the devastation of the twentieth century with its wars and other cultural shocks (on that topic see Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins). It is when the world of 1939 Europe is compared with the "naive credulity" of 1914 Europe that the impact of these shocks becomes apparent.  "The New Republic" commented on Zweig's book: "It is not so much a memoir of a life as it is the memento of an age, and the author seems, in his own phrase, to be the narrator at an illustrated lecture.  The illustrations are provided by time, but his choice is brilliant and the narration is evocative."
 Zweig lived a life of the mind and a life of letters - one that was at odds with the new world. Unfortunately, the last years of his life were spent as an exile from his homeland and in the year after finishing this memoir he and his wife committed suicide together.

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig. University of Nebraska Press, 1964 (1943)


Parrish Lantern said...

If you've got an E-reader, Project Gutenberg have Stefan Zweig on Paul Verlaine.

James said...

Thanks for the information. His fiction is being reprinted by NYRB Classics.