Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts
Levasseur, Jennifer Leigh, "I, All Too Impatient, Go on Before": The afterlife of Stefan Zweig and the regeneration of the grotesque Beware of Pity and Dawn in the Evening: a novel, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong, 2015. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4403
This dissertation is made up of two parts. The first is a thesis that analyses the complicating factor of author suicide in the reader’s ability to engage with literature and suicide’s ability to rewrite an author’s oeuvre, as explored through a case study of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942). The second, an original novel about art, suicide, and the grotesque body set in contemporary New Orleans, is thematically influenced by issues unearthed in the Zweig study, including suicide as a message, the grotesque verses the “finished” body, and romantic love as manipulation.
One of the world’s most popular writers in the 1920s and ’30s, Stefan Zweig inadvertently relegated his work to the status of footnote with his 1942 suicide. After escaping the threat of Nazi persecution and through his suicide in Brazil, the Austrian author forever wedded his biography to his artistic output. Why did this happen to Zweig, and how do we read the fiction of a suicide, particularly if self-harm features in his work? How does a literal self-inflicted death complicate and supplant Roland Barthes’s figurative “death of the author”?
Zweig’s masterpiece and the culmination of his life’s work, his sole novel, Beware of Pity (Ungeduld des Herzens, 1939), was published in exile and has become burdened with the weight of his salacious death. Though it maintains cult status and is the subject of a popular renaissance, Beware of Pity remains understudied. In the 1980s, scholars called for a re-evaluation of the novel. This has been unanswered. Instead, speculation about his death endures as the centrepiece in Zweig scholarship.
Through a case study of Zweig’s afterlife and an analysis of the popular and scholarly reaction to his work pre- and post-suicide, this thesis explores the changing role of the author within a body of work and the ways it affects the reader and reconfigures the writing itself. It answers the void in serious scholarship of Beware of Pity by providing a detailed reading of the novel through Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque body, a particularly apt image for the death and regeneration of both Zweig and his novel.
Because of the recent resurgence of interest in Zweig in English-speaking countries (particularly in the United States and England) and because much of Zweig scholarship has been conducted in English or is quickly translated, this thesis restricts itself to English-language translations of Zweig’s works, scholarship completed in English (or available in translation), and international English-language media. Zweig became an English citizen in 1940, believing that the next phase of his life would find its haven in an English-speaking country. Less than two years after leaving England and rejecting the United States, though, he died in despair in Brazil.
Dawn in the Evening—a contemporary literary novel set in New Orleans that questions how the people we love transform us—follows Sam Mitchell through a day that reconfigures her life, its ghosts, and every person she thought she knew, including herself. Sam Mitchell, thwarted artist and muse, has sacrificed herself to the painter obsessed with her socialite mother, her broken body serving as a correction to her mother’s easy, damaging perfection. As a transplant recipient, Sam views herself as a victim of her own survival. After her beloved father’s unexpected death—and her young lover’s ultimatum—she must face the choices that have left her, at forty, unemployed, beholden to a man who used and abandoned her, distraught by the death of her final family member, and certain only of the value of the paintings her body inspired.
Dawn in the Evening is about the lives we bequeath one another, of misappropriated love, of the danger of fidelity, and of how we are formed by the people we claim. It questions the transformative nature of love and art, and the places where those two forces connect.