‘Beware of Pity’ by Stefan Zweig (new translation by Anthea Bell), (2011) London, Pushkin Press
introduced by Nikky Sternhell
Set on the eve of the First World War but written on the eve of the second, the main story is of the relationship between Lieutenant Anton Hofmiller, a young career officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, and Edith von Kekesfalva, a seriously disabled young aristocratic woman. It is far from being the conventional love story that this one-sentence summary might suggest. It is a story about relationships between people – what is on the surface and what is beneath, and what drives people to behave in sometimes bizarre-seeming ways. Nothing is quite what it seems. (What could be more relevant to the consulting room?) It also has something to say about the wider issues of relationships to/within institutions (such as the army – perhaps standing for a family) and the State. (Zweig was Jewish and, at the time the book was written, was living in exile from his native Vienna).
The novel is set in a time and place where Freud had already published many of his psychoanalytic ideas. Zweig knew Freud and was clearly interested in his work – Freud would not have been at all out of place appearing in the book as one of the physicians consulted about Edith’s mysterious illness.
About the Speaker
Nikky Sternhell retrained as a counsellor at Birkbeck after a long career in computing. She is currently working for a community-based counselling agency, and setting up a private practice.