A quick note about the edition and translation: It seem Mr. Blumenau (above) refers to a slightly different edition by Pushkin Press, with another introduction.
This is of some importance because André Aciman's introduction here in the NYRB edition, although enthusiastic and insightful, reveals far too much of the plot, and would have best been switched with translator Anthea Bell's afterword. First time readers are hereby cautioned. Indeed, it would be best to read the novella first, and the supplementary material after.
That said, Mr. Blumenau (and others) are quite right: Zweig is an important writer of the first rank. On par with close contemporaries Arthur Schnitzler and Joseph Roth, Zweig is a product of that enormously rich and fertile time/place of Vienna in the years just before World War I. And even if `Journey Into The Past' is firmly set in the German speaking world, its vision is much broader.
For the twenty or so years preceding the Great War, there was an enormous confluence (with significant parallels) in the music, painting, and literature of Vienna. So much so that its clear to even a casual observer that Egon Scheile, Arthur Schnitzler, and Gustav Mahler all arose from the same milieu, that heady time of Freud and Schoenberg, the growth of socialist movements, and the nationalist intrigues which inevitably lead to war.
Zweig's posthumously published `Journey Into The Past' concerns the return of a young man to the home of a woman he loved many years before. She is older, and is now widowed. Circumstance heightened the intensity of their passion then while keeping them from consummating their relationship. Yet the memory of each other and that time has not dimmed in either.Read more ›
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This is the latest volume in the Pushkin Press' admirable undertaking to make more of the brilliant works of Stefan Zweig available in English. The novella of just 81 pages is flanked by a Foreword by Paul Bailey and an Afterword by the superb translator Anthea Bell.
Ludwig, a young German of humble social origins, had fallen passionately in love with the wife of his wealthy industrialist employer, and she with him. Zweig - and his translators - have always excelled in descriptions of tempestuous emotions which sweep the reader along. Ludwig was sent on what was intended to be a two-year business mission to Mexico, but before the end of those two years the First World War had broken out, and it would be nine years before he returned to Germany and met her again, and the journey of the title is in part a train journey they take together from Frankfurt to Heidelberg. He was now married, and the industrialist had died. On the train he recalls the history of their relationship in the past. And now? And in the future?
One part of what lies ahead is when they came across a massive Nazi parade - just three years after the end of the First World War and twelve years before the Nazis came to power - as they left the station at Heidelberg. The novella itself was started in 1924, and Zweig probably worked on it as late as the 1930s. As the complete typescript was not found and then published (in a French translation) until 2008, it is impossible to know whether this episode, laden with menace, was part of the original draft. Zweig had always loathed war and the nationalism that gave rise to it, so it may well have been an example of his highly-strung prescience.
Stefan Zweig possesses a fluid and elegant voice, which he uses to achieve precise and evolving insight into the state of mind of Ludwig, the protagonist of JOURNEY INTO THE PAST. With this fine instrument, Zweig shows Ludwig become infatuated with his boss's wife, discover she reciprocates, endure a nine-year separation from his beloved, and then reappear in the wife's life, when he attempts to restore their bond and the emotion of their single rapturous no-no-not-here moment. This novella, I suppose, shows how an innocent emotional connection can become a time-locked fixation, as well as a cause of pathetic wistful frustration. Ludwig, my dear fellow, learn to let things go...
In telling this story, the articulate Zweig focuses on Ludwig's obsessive attachment to the wife. The story moves rapidly, with Ludwig's reflections reaching immediate clarity before scooting onto the next point, which usually reads as both brilliantly spot-on and somehow inevitable. Nonetheless, JitP is first and foremost a story of obsessive love, which means Zweig does write toward such passages as:
"He felt a kind of bridal expectation, sweet and sensuous yet vaguely mingled with anticipatory fear of its own fulfillment, with the mysterious shiver felt when something endlessly desired suddenly comes physically close to the astonished heart. But he... must simply stay like this, carried on into the unknown as if in a dream, carried on by a strange torrent, without physical sensation and yet still feeling, desiring yet achieving nothing, moving on into his fate..."
In his final few paragraphs, Ludwig (SPOILER ALERT!) acknowledges the difficulty of restoring the past to life and the folly of assuming memory foretells the future.Read more ›
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