Tag Archives: 20th century austria

Review: The Post Office Girl

The Post Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig is a book that concerns a female postal clerk in a small town in Austria.

The pages depict the poverty in her small town in Austria, post World War I.  Zweig is extremely detailed in his word-imagery, and his descriptions exhale life lived on the edge of survival.  The country was in turmoil, and he shows how the main character, Christine Hoflehner, lives a rote life, burdened with monetary insufficiency, and an ill mother.  She feels life drags on from day to day.

It literally does, until a telegram arrives. She has been invited to take a trip to visit her aunt Clair and her uncle, who are vacationing in Switzerland. She packed a few meager belongings in a straw suitcase, and journeyed by train to see them, through a naive mindset.  That telegram changed the course of her life, and altered her personality. The reader sees her transformation, immediately.

Her aunt and uncle are vacationing in an ultra swanky hotel, one that caters to the elite. Christine was in awe, at first glance.  She feels inadequate, and feels as if she is being looked upon as one of the staff members.  Her aunt sees the perception, and gives her a few dresses, and some accessories to wear.  With her new apparel, she begins to gain a sense of worth.  She literally changes, dramatically, from introvert to quite the extrovert in her interactions and behavior.  She sees life through new eyes.

Unexpected events occur that lead her back home. Once there she feels cheated, defeated, and feels entitled to the life led while on vacation.  She feels out of place in a world healing from turmoil and political oppression.  She takes it upon herself to travel to Vienna for a weekend getaway, and visits her sister and brother-in-law, also living in poverty.

The story continues with her impressionable mindset, and her being persuaded to delve into areas she never would have thought of, on her own.  To tell you the occurrences would be to spoil the story.  I will just say that she is not the same Christine the reader views in the beginning.  The initial vacation caused her to perceive life and social mores differently. She becomes angry, and her anger sets her on a course of negative decisions.

Stefan Zweig is brilliant and masterful in his story telling, within the pages of The Post Office Girl.  He leaves no stone unturned in his assessment of human behavior and minute details.  The story is a stark study of human behavior and morals.  The book is a valuable work of literature, exploring social standards and their impact on individuals caught in the fray.

The Post Office Girl was published posthumously. The manuscript was found after Zweig’s death. It was not intentionally left for publication.

Much of the novel depicts the strife, poverty and burdens to survive in a bleak world.  The second half of it clearly demonstrates the debilitation of lifestyle that individuals went through.  Those on the fringe were left with less than the threads they originally had.

Stefan Zweig certainly was masterful in his depictions, emotional ones, as well as visual.  I tend to think that the story line is more relevant to his own life, which ended all too soon, by suicide.

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Review: The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig

The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig is a combined study on human behavior and Austrian life. Each story examines behavior, with great detail within the boundaries of Austria’s social standards and mores.

The stories were not only period pieces, but social statements regarding ethics/morals, war and pacifism, and the living standards of the elite versus the poor. Most of the characters are depressed, stuck in a rote of life, and give off an aura of tragic lives lived. The stories are filled with melancholy and slices of drama. Drama played a major role in Austrian lives, and survival depended on roles played.

Pacifism is conveyed in the story entitled “Compulsion“. It involves an artist who receives orders to go to the Austrian consulate. His back and forth indecisiveness reflects those who do not believe in war, yet also feel they should do their duty to their country. Responsibility to his homeland is constantly questioned. Should he go, should he stay, should he go?

Religion factors into many of the stories, from Judaism to Catholicism. The individuals, family units and their beliefs are illuminated through Zweig’s writing. The treatment of Jewish individuals is written with insight and cognizance. Secular Jews were not necessarily considered part of the Austrian fold, depending on time frame and location.

The details within the stories are masterful and filled with perfection. The reader is exposed to the psychology of living in Europe during tragic and uncertain times. This psychology includes the poverty stricken individual’s struggle to survive in a world that looks upon them as less than desirable. Their very psyche is affected, in every aspect.

The bourgeois also strive to fit in. They feel somewhat above those who live in dire straights, but feel less confident than the well off elitists. They are the in between people. The elitists don’t necessarily fare better within their financial circumstances, as odd as that might sound.

Each story is a page-turner in its own right. Some of the characters have life-altering events, along with physical limitations, mindsets and philosophies, ideals, fears and struggles. The stories are not connected. Yet they share a time and place of prewar and war, and the situations that result due to war’s impact on citizens and their lives.

The stories cover the years from 1900 through 1935, with two additional stories having been unpublished until 1951 and 1987, respectively. This reader could see the author’s disintegration from society through the written prose. Zweig’s life was filled with disillusion, antiwar sentiment and a depressive state. So much is apparent in his writing, regarding his mindset, controlled by his dreary outlook on life. His work conveys much of his own thoughts, opinions and emotions, vividly. At least this reader thought so.

The film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is based on some of Zweig’s stories and novels. I can definitely see illuminations of that throughout this book. I have read two of his novels, but had not read this particular collection of works. The Post Office Girl is one of the novels, and the film is also based, in part, on this novel, according to the director, Wes Anderson (I saw it clearly).

Stefan Zweig is brilliant with his visuals, minute details, and in conveying emotional content. He was a masterful story teller, transporting this reader to Austrian life during the first three decades of the 20th century. The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig is a valuable collection of works within one book. The historical value is priceless, and I found the book to be a masterpiece.

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