By Stefan Zweig.
A light and interesting read. There’s nothing great at work here. But, certain episodes resonate – particularly the chapter regarding the conquistadors in South America.
By Stefan Zweig.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. This ‘biography’ has, from Zweig’s pen, Balzac as a wild, wayward picaresque character. Balzac, himself, wrote to the Duchesse Duchesse d’Abrantès:
“In my five-foot two-inches there is compressed every imaginable contrast and contradiction. If anyone likes to call me vain, extravagant, stubborn, frivolous, inconsistent in my thinking, dandified, careless, indolent, lacking in due reflection and not sufficiently painstaking, without perseverance, loquacious, tactless, ill-bred, rude, subject to odd changes of mood, he will be no less right than anyone else who says that I am thrifty, modest, and courageous, tenacious, energetic, carefree, industrious, steadfast, taciturn, full of refinement and courtesy, and always cheerful. It can be asserted with equal truth that I am a poltroon or a hero, a clever fellow or an ignoramus, extremely talented or stupid. Nothing will surprise me. I myself have finally resolved to believe that I am merely an instrument, the plaything of circumstance.”
The book was published after Zweig’s death and it had to be pieced together from the manuscripts he left behind. A great many years had been spent researching Balzac’s life and it had become an obsession. What we are left with in this biography is still, despite the fragmentation, up there in the rarefied air – it twist and turns and roars – like the genius of Balzac himself.
The following quote in the biography comes from Zweig’s mouth and it seems to encompass the paradigm that shaped both of their creative life.
“The artist possesses a remedy which no physician can prescribe for other patients. He alone can throw off his worries by giving them artistic expression. He can transmute the bitterness of experience into the moving portrayal of human character and fashion the constraint of outward circumstance into creative freedom.”
I imagine I will read this biography again: it is packed full of ideas, characters, vivacious plot lines and surreal anecdotes – just like a good novel by Balzac.
Two short novels. Chess was the first bit of writing I had read by Zweig – having found him by mentions on the Pushkin press website and the fact he wrote a biography of Balzac. The novella was excellent and I followed it closely with Journey into the Past. Both were lyrical, melancholy, and filled with the past and reminiscences. The framework was a touch trite for these – but the strength of the evocation meant I was happy to let it go. Something in these reminded me of Nabokov – probably the appreciation of the backward gaze. And, the chess theme.