Stefan Zweig Biography

(One of the Most Popular and Widely Translated Writers in the World During 1920s & 1930s)

Birthday: November 28, 1881 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Vienna, Austria

Stefan Zweig was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer who was one of the most popular writers in the 1920s and 1930s. Not only he had record sales, there was no other author more widely translated at that time. His experience of the First World War had made him a lifelong pacifist who advocated for the unification of Europe. While his stories about social and psychological crises such as gambling, prostitution, adultery, and suicide were emotionally rich, in his works, he usually avoided the irony or sarcasm often found in his letters. He is known for novellas such as 'Fear', 'Letter from an Unknown Woman', 'Amok', 'Confusion of Feelings', 'Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman', and 'The Royal Game', the novels 'Beware of Pity' and the posthumously published 'The Post Office Girl', dramas like 'Jeremiah', the memoir 'The World of Yesterday', and biographies of people including Erasmus of Rotterdam, Marie-Antoinette, Joseph Fouché, Ferdinand Magellan, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Balzac. Due to the corrosive anti-Jewish sentiments of the Nazis, he was forced to live much of his later life in exile around the world until he ended his life in 1942.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 60


Spouse/Ex-: Friderike Maria Zweig, Lotte Altmann (m. 1939), Friderike Maria von Winternitz (1920 - div. 1938)

father: Moritz Zweig

mother: Ida Brettauer

Born Country: Austria

Quotes By Stefan Zweig Novelists

Died on: February 22, 1942

place of death: Petrópolis, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Cause of Death: Suicide

City: Vienna, Austria

Childhood & Early Life
Stefan Zweig was born on November 28, 1881, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, to wealthy Jewish textile mill owner Moritz Zweig and his wife Ida Brettauer, who was from a Jewish banking family. He and his older brother Alfred did not have a religious upbringing and he later stated that his parents "were Jewish only through accident of birth".
While still in school, he often sent poems and articles to literary journals, and also corresponded with famous literary figures of the time. He collected valuable manuscripts, and by the time he was 16, had in his collection works of Goethe and Beethoven, Mozart’s own handwritten thematic catalogue of works, and even Beethoven’s writing desk.
He attended the University of Vienna, from where he completed his Ph.D. in 1904 with the thesis 'The Philosophy of Hippolyte Taine'. While studying in university, he published his first volume of poetry in 1901, apart from various pieces in 'Neue Freie Presse', the most prestigious newspaper in Vienna, edited by Theodor Herzl.
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After completing studies, Stefan Zweig travelled throughout Europe for a decade, visiting cities like Vienna, Berlin, Paris and Brussels, and meeting famous people like Auguste Rodin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Romain Rolland, W.B. Yeats, and Pirandello. He started writing novellas and dramas during this period, and became very popular as a writer.
At the outbreak of World War I, he was conscripted and was assigned to the Austrian Archives of the Ministry of War, but often took leaves and travelled to Switzerland to express his pacifist views. During this time, he wrote the anti-war drama 'Jeremiah' that showcased his extreme pacifism and earned accolades from his friend and famous author Thomas Mann.
After settling in Salzburg following marriage, he wrote a series of novellas and biographical works throughout the 1920s that became immensely popular and often had record-breaking sales within a week of publication. His most popular works from this period include 'Amok', 'Fear', 'Compulsion' and 'Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman', as well as biographical pieces on Marie-Antoinette, Joseph Fouché and Ferdinand Magellan.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler, anti-Jewish attacks increased in the early 1930s, when he was absurdly accused of not writing 'proper' German, which resulted in his books being banned in Germany. By 1934, his books were being burnt, and as Fascism gained popularity in Austria, his house was searched by police later that year, prompting him to leave the country permanently.
He travelled to England and settled in London, where he lived quietly for a period, during which time he was criticized for not openly attacking the Nazis or supporting the persecuted Jews. However, in his works from this period, such as the novel 'Beware of Pity', the novella 'The Chess Story', or the biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, he often showed tormented characters in perilous situations.
Despite receiving British citizenship, he was unhappy about the Jewish refugee situation in London, which he later described as 'ghosts' looking for a new country in his memoir, 'The World of Yesterday'. He left for the United States in 1940, and after staying as the guest of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut for two months, he settled in a rented house in Ossining, New York.
He was once again troubled by the refugee situation in New York, which reminded him of his terrible experience in Europe, and moved to German colony Petrópolis, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August 1940. He resided in Petrópolis until his death and also wrote the book, 'Brazil, Land of the Future', expressing his high expectations from his new place of residence.
Family & Personal Life
In 1908, Stefan Zweig met for the first time his future wife Friderike Maria von Winternitz, who was married at the time, and they became involved in a relationship four years later. They married in 1920, after she was able to get a divorce following the formation of the Austrian republic, and subsequently moved into a small house in Salzburg with her two daughters from previous marriage.
Friderike frequently helped him with research, read books sent to him, wrote acknowledgement letters in his name, and also supported him during his bouts of depression and anxiety. They divorced in 1938, but after his death, she wrote the memoire, 'Married to Stefan Zweig', in 1946, published a picture book on Zweig, and also founded the Stefan Zweig Society.
His second marriage was to his secretary Elisabet Charlotte 'Lotte' Altmann, in 1939 in Bath, England, where he had settled that year after living in London since 1934. As Hitler's troops advanced west, he and his wife went to the United States for a brief period of time before settling in Petrópolis in Brazil.
Zweig, who was tormented by the bleak future of Europe, committed suicide by barbiturate overdose, holding hands with his wife, on February 23, 1942. In a note he mentioned that he had decided "it better to conclude in good time".
A year after Stefan Zweig left Austria in 1934, he had provided the libretto for the drama 'Die schweigsame Frau' ('The Silent Woman') for his friend, German composer Richard Strauss. Strauss had famously defied the Nazis by refusing to remove Zweig's name from the production of the opera, which was banned after three performances.
Parts of Zweig's illustrious collection of manuscripts can be found at the British Library, at the State University of New York at Fredonia and at the National Library of Israel. The College of Europe had named the 1993-94 academic year in his honor.
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