Beware of Pity
Publication Date: June 20, 2006
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"Stefan Zweig was a dark and unorthodox artist; it's good to have him back."--Salman Rushdie
The great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig was a master anatomist of the deceitful heart, and Beware of Pity, the only novel he published during his lifetime, uncovers the seed of selfishness within even the finest of feelings.
Hofmiller, an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer stationed at the edge of the empire, is invited to a party at the home of a rich local landowner, a world away from the dreary routine of the barracks. The surroundings are glamorous, wine flows freely, and the exhilarated young Hofmiller asks his host's lovely daughter for a dance, only to discover that sickness has left her painfully crippled. It is a minor blunder that will destroy his life, as pity and guilt gradually implicate him in a well-meaning but tragically wrongheaded plot to restore the unhappy invalid to health.
STEPHAN ZWEIG (1881-1942) spent his youth studying philosophy and the history of literature in Vienna and belonged to a pan-European cultural circle that included Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss. 1n 1934, under National Socialism, Zweig fled Austria for England, where he authored several novels, short stories, and biographies. In 1941 Zweig and his second wife traveled to Brazil, where they both committed suicide. New York Review Books recently republished his novel, Chess Story, in Fall 2005.
JOAN ACOCELLA is a staff writer for The New Yorker and contributes regularly to the New York Review of Books. Her latest books is Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism.
"Beware of Pity, his first venture in longer fiction, is original and powerful work...Zweig has chronicled a hopeless and tragic relationship in a manner that so holds the reader as never to dispirit him, telling a story full of psychological pitfalls that only an experienced writer, and an experienced human being could dare to attempt...Zweig remains, after Beware of Pity, what he seemed to be--in his novelettes and biographies--before he wrote it: a brilliant writer." --The New York Times
"Admired by readers as diverse as Freud, Einstein, Toscanini, Thomas Mann and Herman Goering." --The New York Times
"Herr Zweig presents this story with considerable skill, with compelling force...It is a good story." --The New York Times
"What is so impressive about Beware of Pity is Zweig's ability to make us feel the violently shifting emotions of all his characters as if they were our own. Only a writer of great sensitivity could do this. His theme, or moral, which he does not obtrude on us in any clumsy way, is that impulsive pity for others is a dangerous emotion with embroils us in false situations, often with disastrous results." --Sunday Telegraph
"Beware of Pity is an utterly unsparing dissection of the corruptions of false pity...In stripping away the lies with which we disguise our true desires from ourselves, Zweig lays bare the larger lies of the age: it was, in fact, the perfect novel for that 'low, dishonest decade,' as Auden termed it." --The New York Sun