Sunday, July 8, 2018

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig





Here is the second movement of John Davison's Sonata for Trombone and Piano. This is not my favorite interpretation but I could not find another one on youtube.

I found this book in the Boulder Bookstore in Colorado.  I had heard about Zweig and was curious to read his work.  If this is a good example I will be looking for more of his work.

Beware of PityBeware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book was quite powerful. I do not know when I have become so emotionally involved with a story. I found myself involuntarily having conversations with the characters, lecturing them on their fatal flaws.

This is a book about fatal flaws. Our protganist, Hofmiller, is an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer stationed at a small village at the edge of the empire, in what would now be Hungary.

While there he encounters a wealthy family who welcomes him like a family member. Hofmiller is delighted while surprised and a little confused. Why have such important people included him so definitely into their life?

The story is written in first person so we hear every thought Hofmiller has as he tells his tale. The family's name is Kakesfalva and Herr von Kakesfalva practically adopts Hofmiller as a son and treasured guest.

Kakesfalva lives in a large estate, owns most of the property of the village and is kept company by his beautiful niece, Ilona, and his daughter, Edith.

What starts out as a pleasant break from his harsh existence as a soldier gradually turns into a psychological nightmare, making his life in the barracks as a carnival in comparison.

Edith is a teenager, maybe seventeen, and a few years ago, by some kind of staph infection, probably polio, lost the use of her legs. She has kept the household enslaved and miserable with her bitterness. Lashing the whip with threats of hurting herself. Her father and her cousin are completely in her thrall.

Hofmiller finds himself becoming ever more entangled in this unhappy family's affairs. At first he is invited simply to keep them company and provide diversion for an otherwise weary existence. But as time passes, it becomes evident that the family all expect more from him.

And here is the hero's fatal flaw. Even though he becomes more and more ill at ease visiting, he is afraid to extricate himself for fear that it would destroy Edith.

This story is a brilliant discourse on emotional manipulations. Not just the manipulators but people who allow themselves to become manipulated, all because of pity.

Hofmiller knows that pity is his only motivation for continuing his relationship with the family. He sees it and feels absolutely helpless. And by acting out of pity, he makes the situation worse and worse. In the end, he still does not see clearly. He thinks too poorly of the Kakesfalvas and too highly of his own ability to "save" Edith to do the right thing.

I do not want to give away the plot because there are some interesting and unexpected developments that take the reader deeper into the lives of each character.

But I will end with the last sentence of the book:

.."no guilt is forgotten as long as the conscience still knows of it."



View all my reviews






15 comments:

  1. Great review Sharon. You make me really want to read this. In the real world it is all too common for people to fall into emotional traps. Such situations make for good, but often disturbing, fiction. I also sometimes find myself stepping into stories and trying to talk to characters, especially if the characters begin to frustrate me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Brian. To me the best stories suck you in to their reality. Of all the vices, controlling manipulative people are the ones I loathe the most. I think because I have been a victim of those kinds of people myself. I just don't think quickly on my feet.

      Delete
  2. i actually started reading this about six months ago but got distracted, which occurs all too often... Stephan Zweig was a well-known writer when i was young and i think i read some of his work then; haven't heard the name for quite a while, though... nice review; i'll have to get back to it...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mudpuddle. This is the first book I've ever read by Zweig and I really liked it. I plan on reading more of his work. I have ordered the Chess Game.

      Delete
  3. Very interesting, Sharon. I’m left to wonder about the ways people — consciously and unconsciously — either manipulate others or let themselves be manipulated by others. The novel you so adroitly highlight really piques my curiosity about that dynamic. Alas, we are all manipulated, and we are all manipulators. Hmmm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. good to hear from you, RT...

      Delete
    2. Hi R.T. I really hate it when people manipulate me. I had a friend who did that to me. She was a faster thinker than I was. By the time I realized I really did not want to do what she asked me "as a favor" it was too late.

      Delete
  4. Sharon, Mudpuddle.... FYI....I remain still alive at ...
    https://rtdsinformalinquiries.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So I noticed. I just visited your site. And I remain imprisoned in my son's account.

      Delete
  5. Sounds very interesting, Sharon. I don’t think very quickly in my feet either & tend to get sucked into things easily. As you say, by the time you realise what’s happened, it’s too late! Do you think books like this help? I find it’s partly my impulsive nature that is the problem...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carol. I think the people I despise the most (and I really don't despise people, generally speaking) are people who manipulate others to get their way.

      I have had multiple people in my life-family members and friends- who have used me to their advantage and my disadvantage. Because, as you say, I'm a slow thinker. I don't realize what has happened until it's too late.

      This book is fascinating, but I believe as Christians we would have a stronger sense of right and wrong and would not deceive ourselves into thinking we could help someone as deranged and desperate as some of the characters are in this novel.

      The protagonist did because of an arrogance and weakness of character on his part. He had no higher power to reach to and give him balance and perspective. He felt he was the only one who could "save" people.

      Delete
  6. This sounds like a fascinating novel! I see parallels immediately with The Idiot, where the main character's sense of empathy/pity draws him further into the drama, with mixed results. I was going to read Zweig's Chess Story first, but maybe I will start with this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marion, I have ordered Zweig's Chess Story and a collection of his short stories because I enjoyed this book so much. Since this is my first Zweig I don't know if there is a certain order you should read them.

      I see what you mean about parallels with the Idiot. The Prince is very naive and thinks he can save two women who are desperate in their own ways, but he is very wrong. In the end he cannot even save himself.

      Delete
  7. Great review! I remember having a similar response to it as yours. Zweig's ability to pull the reader in to the emotional and moral life of the protagonist was impressive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi James. I am now a devoted Zweig fan. I have since ordered a collection of his novellas and short stories.

      Delete

I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.