I guess it's going to happen soon.
My supply of available novels in translation by Stefan Zweig will dry up and I'll be bereft and just have to read those I have over again. I've already read several twice but my ongoing read of Stefan Zweig's autobiography is just making me hungry or as A.S.Byatt says, greedy for more.
Burning Secret published originally in 1913 as Brennendes Geheimnis but more recently in an English translation by Anthea Bell by Pushkin Press and in one of those delicious 'little' editions they have made their own and with some contemporaneous artwork on the cover.
This a 1911 painting by Kadinsky.
Three main players, twelve year old Edgar and his mother have left his father behind and are holidaying alone at the Austrian resort of Semmering up in the mountains when their close-knit bond is interrupted by the arrival of the gregarious pleasure-seeking Baron,
'He knew that if he was to show his talents to best advantage, he needed to strike sparks off other people to fan the flames of warmth and exuberance in his heart. On his own he was frosty, no use to himself at all, like a match left lying in its box.'
The huntsman with a strategy best defines the lady-killer Baron and in his sights, Edgar's mother. Befriended by the Baron, it is some time before the naive Edgar realises the true motives behind the Baron's effusive interest. Once the truth starts to dawn Edgar is invaded by new and previously unknown emotions, new behaviours,
'Once he might perhaps have been naughty in order to annoy her, but you learn a lot when you hate and you learn it fast.'
For a brilliant delineation of the mind of a child on the brink of adulthood, look no further. Edgar does not yet possess the guile of an adult, he is readily duped and when the Baron's duplicity becomes apparent his reactions hover in that no-man's land between childhood and adolescence. Acting on impulse and with no thought for the consequences, Edgar's impetuousness will lead to him learning the first of many lessons in that heady land of adulthood,
'Dimly he felt that the secret was the bolt on the door of childhood, and once he had shot back the bolt and conquered the secret it would mean he was a grown up, a man at long last.'
Stefan Zweig has that happy knack of choosing his locations carefully, here the rarified mountain atmosphere where the air is that little bit thinner, everything is defined more sharply and with crystal clarity. Then he proceeds to examine every nuance with that microscopic lens of his, the glance, the blush , the discomfort, nothing is too minor to be missed, those unspoken moments leading to assumptions, the 'cause' which allows the reader to add the 'effect.'
Why was Edgar's mother so angry to find that, sent to his room from the dinner table they were sharing with the Baron, Edgar has sat and waited for her in her room?
Edgar is completely perplexed at her rage, yet we are not...well I wasn't.
Stefan Zweig doesn't need to say it but I did... what if she had returned to her room 'with company'.
Edgar's mother has lessons to learn too as she approaches that time in a child's life when as a mother you have to stage something of an emotional retreat and let them sort it all out for themselves, let them rewrite that treasured childhood relationship you've had with them, as they become distant and grunt instead of talking. Thankfully the plan is that they return as well-balanced young adults who pat you on the head and willingly come and carry the shopping in from the car or lend you a tenner, but be prepared to be told a few home truths along the way perhaps....you won't wear those Ugg boots outside the house will you and definitely not with a short skirt...but they keep my feet lovely and warm.
I gave them to Offspringette in the end.
Edgar, spotting his mother's weakness for the Baron's advances and sensing a disloyalty to his father, wastes no time in honing his fledgling adolescent emotional skills on her as he advises 'you ought to beware of him',
'It was terrible to her to find an inner voice of her own conscience, separated from herself and disguised as a child, going around masquerading as her own child, warning and deriding her.'
So more wonderful Stefan Zweig.
Every book I read of his touches something special, makes me think and see anew and the very good news is that this November Pushkin Press will be releasing a new edition of the fantastic autobiography The World of Yesterday that I'm slow-reading in the old University of Nebraska edition at the moment. I'll have to do a halfway post soon because there is so much to say about Stefan Zweig's incredible outlook on his life as it builds slowly and inexorably towards the rise of Hitler and as my November Remembrance Reading is going to be World War II this year it couldn't be more apposite.
Mention and plaudits too for the translation of Burning Secrets by Anthea Bell and eternal gratitude for that intervention and careful mediation that allows me to read and appreciate yet again this amazing writer.