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In Stefan Zweig’s Confusion, a venerable privy councilor approaching
the end of his career adds a “secret page” to the
public record of his accomplishments, confessing the true
story of his youthful initiation into the delights and perils
of intense scholarship. After a first semester in Berlin more
devoted to amorous adventures with local shop girls than
books, he makes a fresh start in a small university town in
central Germany where a professor’s brilliant lecturing style
sparks a new all-consuming passion for learning and reading.
He takes lodgings above the apartment of the professor and
his wife and is soon a regular visitor there, dining with them
on a daily basis and successfully inspiring the older man to
make a fresh attempt to complete his magnum opus. And yet
the professor’s enthusiasm for his devoted protégé alternates
with cold scorn and sudden dismissals, leaving the perplexed
student crippled by feelings of inadequacy and rejection,
feelings only the professor’s frustrated young wife seems to
understand. But the secret anguish behind the older man’s
apparently irrational cruelty will not so easily out. . .
Laying bare the fraught relationship between human instincts
and higher callings, physical longing and the desire for knowledge,
muddled emotions and the quest for intellectual clarity,
Zweig’s intoxicating novella probes the mysteries of the creative
process and the limits of sublimation.
About the Author
Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), novelist, biographer, poet, and translator, was born in Vienna into a wealthy Austrian Jewish family. During the 1930s, he was one of the best-selling writers in Europe and was among the most translated German-language writers before the Second World War. With the rise of Nazism, he moved from Salzburg to London (taking British citizenship), to New York, and finally to Brazil, where he committed suicide with his wife. New York Review Books has published Zweig’s novels The Post-Office Girl and Beware of Pity as well as the novellas Chess Story and Journey Into the Past.
Anthea Bell is the recipient of the 2009 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for her translation of Zweig’s Burning Secret. In 2002 she won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize for her translation of W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz.
George Prochnik is the author of Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology and In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise. He has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Playboy, and Cabinet, among other publications.
Praise for Confusion…
“Confusion is one of his finest and most exemplary works . . . a marvelously poised account of misunderstood motives, thwarted love, and sublimated desires . . . a perfect reminder of, or introduction to, Zweig’s economy and subtlety as a writer.” —Robert Macfarlane, The Times Literary Supplement
"Passion and dedication . . . Outside the works of Plato, I don't think I have ever read a better or more honest account of what ill always remain at the heart of teaching" —Gabriel Josipovici, The Jewish Chronicle
"Confusion, which I recently devoured at a sitting, is in essence a simple story. An elderly academic looks back on the most intense and formative relationship of his life." —Harry Eyres, Financial Times
"A brilliant writer." —The New York Times
"In fiction, I have been on a Zweig kick. In England over December, I noticed that many British newspapers' year-end recommenders were praising the Pushkin Press for reissuing several works by Stefan Zweig, a brilliant Austrian writer whose work brings to mind that of his compatriot Joseph Roth... these fictions are a treat of prewar European literature" —Sylvia Brownrigg, The New York Times
"Zweig belongs with three very different masters who each perfected the challenging art of the short story and the novella: Maupassant, Turgenev and Chekhov" —Paul Bailey
"One hardly knows where to begin in praising Zweig's work. One gets the impression that he actively preferred to write about women, and about the great moral crises that send shivers down the spines of polite society" —Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
"The secret superstar" —Julie Kavanagh, Intelligent Life (The Economist)
"My advice is that you should go out at once and buy his books" —Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph
"Admired by readers as diverse as Freud, Einstein, Toscanini, Thomas Mann and Herman Goering." —The New York Times