Sunday, October 20

BEWARE OF PITY

During the summer holidays I bought a second hand book called “Beware of Pity” by a writer named Stefan Zweig. I had never heard of Zweig before, despite the fact that New York Review Books has included his title in their list of publications. Beware of Pity is a gloomy novel, first translated from German to English in 1939, telling the story of a friendship between an officer of the Austro-Hungarian army and a cripple young girl. The young girl falls in love with the officer, who had once, unaware of her situation, asked her to dance with him. The officer obviously feels guilty about his faux pas afterwards, and their relationship unfolds. Zweig states there are two kinds of pity: “one, the weak and sentimental kind..., that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one’s own soul against the sufferings of another; and the other, the only kind that counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond” What is interesting about this novel is that it is so clearly anti-Semitic, despite the fact that Zweig came from a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family. If the manuscript were given to a publisher today, it would possibly be rejected. Stefan Zweig took his own life in 1942, while living in Petropolis, Brazil.