Stefan Zweig is a writer everyone should know:
Stefan Zweig was once ‘the world’s most translated author’ – then he faded into obscurity in the English-speaking world. But a revival in interest is under way, reports Matthew Anderson.
A few years ago the director Wes Anderson was browsing the shelves of a bookshop in his adopted home of Paris when he made a chance discovery. He took down a copy of Beware of Pity, a 1939 novel by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, recently re-released in English after years out of print. “I think I read the first page in the store and thought, ‘OK, this is a new favourite writer of mine,’” Anderson told Variety.
Anderson has used Zweig's work to make The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that it's going to be impossible not to see. I don't know exactly how you would view Zweig today--and how are we going to view Anderson as well? Zweig, in his lifetime, enjoyed a popularity that has eluded Anderson.
Zweig's impact across European culture has to be gauged in that arena. It would be too easy to categorize him as a popular author with little substance--that would be unfair. It would be unfair to try and rate him against authors that were in pursuit of other ideals and who eschewed commercial success. Zweig clearly went after popularity and wanted to be widely read--in other words, accessible in a medium that elevates the inaccessible to ridiculous heights. But there's no question that he had an impact on the culture:
“He was one of the first star authors, and even in an age with no TV and very few pictures in the newspapers, people recognised him wherever he went,” says Zweig’s biographer Oliver Matuschek, who has spent 20 years researching the writer’s life and works. “The sheer volume is unbelievable,” says Matuschek. “In the collected works in German there are 36 volumes, and that doesn’t include the 500 pieces of journalism that were published in newspapers and magazines in his lifetime.”
That may explain it--the fact that he wrote in his native German and not English. Translations of his work were commonplace enough, but without the advantage of being a native speaker of English, Zweig may have been forgotten almost entirely because we tend to place more value on English language writers. I would call that a bias.