Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 1, 2022

Confusion, by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell

To kick off #NovellasInNovember, here’s a classic masterpiece from Stefan Zweig.

Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, and biographer.  One of the most widely translated and popular writers in the world, he fled the rise of fascism in 1934, first to England, then to New York and finally to Brazil, where he and his wife committed suicide in 1942.

Zweig was prolific across nonfiction and biography but is best known for his short fiction:

  • Letter from an Unknown Woman (1922),
  •  Amok (1922), see my review
  • Fear (1925),
  • Confusion of Feelings (1927),
  • Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman (1927), see my review
  • Beware of Pity, 1939), and
  • The Royal Game (1941).

Confusion is remarkable for its portrait of repressed sexuality. It’s the story of a young man called Roland and his English professor, a relationship which turns out to be fraught with suppressed desire.  Initially Roland is infatuated intellectually — it is this professor who transforms him from an idle young wastrel into a passionate enthusiast of literature (which becomes his own career). He takes lodgings near the professor and is welcomed into his home, where he soon discovers that the professor’s marriage is a sham.  He and his wife live together, and share meals at which Roland is present, but they never speak to or about each other.

Readers realise what’s going on before Roland does. The professor deals with his attraction to his young students by being warm and affectionate sometimes, while brusque and unkind at others in order to resist temptation.

How I suffered from this man who moved from hot to cold like a bright flash of lightning, who unknowingly inflamed me, only to pour frosty water over me all of a sudden, whose exuberant mind spurred on my own, only to lash me with irony—I had a terrible feeling that the closer I tried to come to him, the more harshly, even fearfully he repelled me.  Nothing could, nothing must approach him and his secret.

For I realised more and more acutely that secrecy strangely, eerily haunted his magically attractive depths. I guessed at something unspoken in his curiously fleeting glance, which would show ardour and then shrink away when I gratefully opened my mind to him; I sensed it from his wife’s bitterly compressed lips. (p.69)

The professor’s wife is under no illusions.  When Roland, in anguish, beseeches her to explain the professor’s contradictory behaviour, she calls him a stupid child who notices nothing. 

There are also allusions to Shakespeare’s sonnets, which include love poems to the ‘Fair Youth’ which give rise to speculation that Shakespeare was bisexual.

The professor’s major work, called ‘The History of the Globe Theatre’, was started long ago but abandoned.  Roland is the catalyst for a resumption of this work, and he becomes the professor’s amanuensis.  But the tension rises when—at a moment of intellectual communion—Roland’s naïveté morphs into awkwardness.  For him, their intimacy was a meeting of minds and the sudden realisation that for the professor the attraction was not only intellectual makes him rush off in confusion.  A confusion that is replaced by rage after the professor makes a furtive visit to his room in the middle of the night to say, albeit circuitously, that it was ‘not right’ to continue their relationship.  The retreat to formality is signalled by the professor’s reversion to using the formal ‘sie’ rather than the informal ‘du’. 

Stories from an earlier era when people had to hide their sexual identity are a reminder that legal reforms are recent, and not universal in all societies.  It’s good to see that some Australian sporting teams are speaking out about the discrimination in some countries where they play.

I read this book for Novellas in November Week one: Short Classics, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Rebecca at Bookish Beck, and #GermanLitMonth hosted by Lizzy Sidal.

 

Author: Stefan Zweig
Title: Confusion (Verwirrung der Gefühle: confusion of emotions)
Translated from the German by Anthea Bell
Cover design: Petra Borner
Publisher: Pushkin Press, 2013, first published 1927
ISBN: 9781901285222, pbk, French flaps, 153 pages
Source: Personal library

 


Responses

  1. Each year I think I’ll do a Zweig but each year I don’t get to it. I’m working on a post now… but it’s not Zweig.

    I have read a short story of his but long ago. I do want to read more.

    Like

    • This one *is* short. I read most of it during a half hour wait in a doctor’s waiting room…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Once upon a time I used to hate those waits… but since having kids I learnt to appreciate them as times of peace to read!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My kind of read as short story my favourite genre.

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    • Zweig is definitely a master of the form!

      Like

      • Will follow your recommendation.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love his writing! Now I’ll have to see if I’ve got anything unread on the shelves!!

    Like

  4. Sounds good Lisa, I’ve read a couple of Zweig’s and been quite impressed.

    Like

  5. […] Confusion by Stefan Zweig, translated by Andrea Bell – Lisa at ANZ LitLovers […]

    Like

  6. Sounds great! Added it to my TBR.

    Like


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