Zweig, Stefan (1881–1942) By Rock, Lene
Stefan Zweig was a prominent Austrian-Jewish novelist, playwright and journalist throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Growing up in a Viennese upper-class environment of assimilated Jewry, which attached great importance to the Bildung genre, Zweig devoted himself to literature from a young age. As a student of literature and philosophy at the universities of Vienna and Berlin, he moved in bohemian circles, focusing on his writing. At the age of 19, he published Silberne Saiten [Silver Strings] (1901), a selection of poems initiating his literary success. Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism and then literary editor of the Viennese newspaper Neue freie Presse, published some of Zweig’s early essays.
A defender of humanism and internationalism, Zweig himself was not attracted to the Jewish nationalist cause. Zweig did not, however, renounce his roots, and he would occasionally incorporate Jewish themes into stories such as Im Schnee [In the Snow] (1901). Zweig has been recognized, in particular, for his novellas. His most notable novellas include Schachnovelle [The Royal Game] (1942) and Der Amokläufer [Amok] (1922); historical miniatures such as Sternstunden der Menschheit [Decisive Moments in History] (1927); and novelistic biographies of figures like Erasmus, Magellan, Joseph Fouché, Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon. Zweig’s works are characterized by a careful construction of psychological veracity, illustrating the often tragic evolution of powerful emotions into an overall sense of resignation.