Stefan Zweig's vision, and his disillusion
The word that keeps coming back is fluent. Stefan Zweig was born fluent. Fluent in everything. Everything seemed to come easily to him. Born in 1881 into a very wealthy, open-minded Viennese Jewish family, he lived well and traveled widely; published at a very early age; finished his dissertation at an equally precocious age; acquired unparalleled international fame as a biographer, novelist, playwright, essayist, and librettist; and had a roster of friends and acquaintances so exhaustive that it is difficult to think of any European worthy of notice in the early decades of the past century whose biography would not at one point or another invoke the name of Stefan Zweig.
He appears everywhere, knows everyone, and is translated into more languages than any of his contemporaries. Just about everything he put his mind to is stamped with the telltale ease, polish, and effortless grace of people whose success, literary and otherwise, seemed given from the day they were born or picked up a pen. He never quarreled with his tools; his tools were happy to oblige. He didn't spend nights searching for the mot juste; the mot juste simply came. Agony was not his style. In his work there is not one trace of difficulty overcome. Difficulty never came. There is—and one spots it from the very first sentence in almost everything he wrote—an unmistakable lightness of touch that makes him at once solemn and sociable, humble and patrician, scholar and raconteur.
The irony is seldom overblown, the drama never overstretched, and the psychology, for all its unsparing, disquieting probes into "spiritual upheavals … unknown and unsuspected," remains spot-on and mischievously subtle. You won't hear the lumpish footfalls of over-the-top sorrow or pick up the false accents of fin de siècle melancholia. Zweig is firm and fluent. Everything in its time, everything just right, never a false move, not one sleight of hand. The story almost writes itself, from beginning to end. He'll stop either when he has nothing more to say or when it's no longer safe or necessary to go any further. ...