Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 13, 2016

Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman, by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell

twenty-four-hours-in-the-life-of-a-womanPassion.  It’s a word that gets bandied about a lot these days.  People tell prospective employers that they’re passionate about their work; others say that they are passionate about their hobbies, their sport or their gardens.  But true passion, as Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) shows in this neat little novella, is a kind of madness.  If you’ve been lucky enough to fall passionately in love, you know what I mean.  Nobody would want an employee who really was passionate about accounting, or teaching, or driving a train.

Once again a small pensione is the setting for strangers to come together; this time it’s on the Riviera, where an unusual incident triggers a confessional narrative from a very old lady.  On the spur of the moment an otherwise respectably married woman with children runs away with a very recently arrived handsome young man, and amongst the guests there is indignation and outrage.  They are convinced she must have known him beforehand and had been having a covert affair.  The narrator, irritated by their judgementalism, plays devil’s advocate, and provokes consternation by saying that he thought that such a hasty passion was possible.  This is the catalyst for the old lady to take him into her confidence, unburdening herself of a secret that has tormented her for most of her life.

Zweig’s depiction of the compulsive gambler whose plight moves her to passion is, given what we now know about gambling addiction, entirely convincing.

And I’m sure that neither you nor any other feeling human being with his eyes open could have withstood that fearful curiosity, for a more disturbing sight can hardly be imagined than the gambler, who must have been twenty-four at the most but moved as laboriously as an old man and was swaying like a drunk, dragged himself shaking and disjointedly down the steps to the terrace beside the road.  Once there, his body dropped onto a bench, limp as a sack.  Again I shuddered as I sensed, from that movement, that the man had reached the end of his tether.  Only a dead man or one with nothing left to keep him alive drops like that.  His head, fallen to one side, leant back over the bench, his arms hung limp and shapeless to the ground, and in the dim illumination of the faintly flickering street lights any passer-by would have thought he had been shot. And it was like that – I can’t explain why the vision came suddenly into my mind, but all of a sudden it was there, real enough to touch, terrifying and terrible – it was like that, as a man who had been shot, that I saw him before me at that moment, and I knew for certain that he had a revolved in his pocket, and tomorrow he would be found lying lifeless and covered with blood on this or some other bench.  For he had dropped like a stone falling into a deep chasm, never to stop until it reaches the bottom: I never saw such a physical expression of exhaustion and despair. (p.42)

Mrs C’s impulse to save him from himself is exquisitely rendered as she progresses from humane motivations to more sensual emotions at odds with her initial maternal feelings.  Few readers would not be on her side as she hastens towards the inevitable…

Author: Stefan Zweig
Title: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman
Translated by Anthea Bell
Publisher: Pushkin Press, 2016
ISBN: 7981782272151
Source: on loan from Bill at The Australian Legend – thanks, Bill!

Available from Fishpond: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman


Responses

  1. Can’t go wrong with Zweig, can you. Although a few people have told me that Chess Story isn’t very good.

  2. Love Zweig but this is one I’ve yet to read. As for Chess Story – I thought it was marvellous.

    • I do like the sound of that one…

  3. This is another example of one of Zweig’s excellent stories. I just want to read them all again!

    • I like the length, straddling short story and novella, they can be read in an hour but they are more character-driven than most short stories.

  4. This is the only Zweig I have read, I’m sure I bought it by accident, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  5. One day I will get around to reading the Zweig I have on my TBR….

  6. I must admit that among Austrian writers of the period Stefan Zweig isn’t my favourite, but several of his works are really excellent. Despite its unwieldy title, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman is certainly among his best ones which is why I presented it on Edith’s Miscellany already a while ago (click here to read my review). Nonetheless, I prefer Chess Story and Letter from an Unknown Woman.
    LaGraziana @ Edith’s Miscellany

    • Hello Edith, thanks for contacting me, you were right, your comment was indeed in my spam folder.
      If this as you say is happening to you on other blogs too, it’s probably because you are adding links to your reviews. Multiple URLs in a comment is one of the features that Akismet (the spam program used by WordPress) is programmed to detect.
      Hopefully this won’t happen to you again here, but if you add more than one URL in any comment, it will go to moderation and there may be a delay before I get to it to approve it.

      • No, Lisa, it’s not a matter of links. I’ve posted comments to wordpress blogs without any links in them and they still went straight to the spam folders. Another blogger told me that it’s because my log-in domain is *.blogspot.com. Once freed by the owner, it usually works – with and without links.

        • How very odd. And what a pain for you!
          (WP thought I was a spammer once, it was horrible, I felt so left out of things until my blogging friends rescued me!
          Anyway, here you are, and doubly welcome:)

  7. I love the work of Zweig. I read this work a couple of years ago. Through your great post I could relive it.

    • Thanks:) I see your blog focusses on literary biographies, which I really enjoy. Have you been able to locate a biography of Zweig?

  8. […] Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life (Lisa’s review – ANZ Lit Lovers) […]

  9. I have been seeing a lot of reviews for Zweig’s books recently, and they have all been good. He’s definitely on my list of authors to read!

    • *chuckle* I reckon that might be because it’s easy to read a short story to contribute to German Lit Month when you’re caught short and don’t have much time!

  10. […] Secret 1 Did He Do It? 1 2 The Invisible Collection 1 Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of A Woman 1 […]


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