Stefan Zweig was born on November 28, 1881 in Vienna, Austria. Being the son of a wealthy Jewish businessman, he was able to pursue his education with complete freedom, guided only by his taste which inclined him to literature, philosophy and history. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of imperial Vienna favored in young Zweig a curiosity of the wider world, which quickly turned into bulimia, pushing him towards all theater premieres, all new titles not yet critically acclaimed, all new forms of culture. At 23, he received a doctorate in philosophy. He started writing beautiful poems influenced by Hofmannsthal and Rilke, such as "Silver Strings" (1900) and "Precocious Garland" (1907). He also won the poetry prize Bauernfeld, one of the highest literary awards in his country. Zweig then published a booklet of verse, a translation of Verlaine's best poems, and wrote stories. Passionate about theater, he soon began to write dramas: "Thersites" (1907), "The House on the shores of the Sea" (1911). But Stefan Zweig felt that "literature is not life", it is "a means of exaltation of life, a way to capture the drama in a clearer and more intelligible way" . His ambition then was to "give my life all its amplitude, fullness, strength and knowledge, also bind to the essential and the depth of things." In 1904 he went to Paris where he stayed several times and became friends with writers of the Abbey, Jules Romains in particular. They would later write together the play "Volpone," which tens of thousands of Parisians had the pleasure of seeing and whose success is not yet exhausted today. A tireless traveler, always looking for new experiences, he then went visiting Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916) in Belgium. Zweig would become a close friend, translator and biographer. Zweig lived in Rome, Florence, where he met Ellen Key (1849-1926), the famous Swedish authoress, in Provence, Spain, Africa. He visited England, toured the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico. He spent a year in India. This didn't prevent him from pursuing his literary work, without effort, one might think, since he says: "Despite the best intentions, I do not remember having worked during that period. But this is contradicted by the facts since I have written several books and plays that have been played on almost all the scenes of Germany and also abroad ...". His multiple trips were bound to develop the love he felt from his youth for foreign literature, and especially French literature. This love, which subsequently turned into a cult, he showed with remarkable translations of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, his friend Verhaeren, Suares, and Romain Rolland (whose books Zweig was one of the first, if not the first, to bring to the attention of German-speaking countries and who had a considerable moral influence over Zweig). When WW1 broke out, Zweig, like Romain Rolland in France, could not resign himself to sacrifice the superior reality of culture across borders to unleashed nationalism. An ardent pacifist, he was deeply marked and hurt by this war. It inspired him violent protests at the time ("Jeremiah", 1916), but also later, as in "Intoxication of Metamorphosis," which was written long after, around 1930 (first part) and 1938 (for the second part, the one which mostly incriminated war). The war was the source of Stefan Zweig's constant concern not to be duped by the fake moral values of a society in decay, which we can find in many short stories and he explains with fervor in "The World of Yesterday." Throughout his life, Zweig was socially a rather bizarre character, often tempted by nihilism. By 1915, he married Friederike von Winternitz. He left Vienna in 1919 and settled in Salzburg, where he wrote many of his most famous short stories such as "Twenty-four hours in the life of a woman," "Amok", "Confusion of Feelings ", " Fear "... In less than ten years, Zweig, who once considered his work "as a simple beam of life, as something secondary," published a dozen short stories - the German short story often has the importance of our novels - as many essays written in a powerful language on Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Freud - whom he was intimate with - Stendhal, etc. ... that reflect his wider culture. Then followed a series of biographical writings, where he acquired a certain authority from the outset with his "Fouche". But alas! Hitler and his Nazis had seized power in Germany, and acts of violence against opponents were multiplying. Soon Austria, already half Nazified, would be invaded. As early as 1933, in Munich and other cities, the books of the "Jew" Zweig were burnt in bonfire. Zweig saw with despair the same brutal and destructive forces of the first World War return, in the even worse form of Nazism. In 1934 he went to Bath in England. His departure also raises much controversy among biographers, some supporting the very plausible hypothesis that he went into exile because of the impending war and the rise of antisemitism, while others say he simply wanted to further his research on Mary Stuart, whose biography he was writing. In 1938, he divorced Friederike, with whom he still kept a close friendship. He later remarried with a young English secretary, Charlotte Elizabeth Lotte Altmann, who soon after becamse seriously ill. But since leaving his Salzburg residence his restless soul left him no rest. He traveled back to North America, then to Brazil, made brief visits to France, Austria, where the Nazis were tormenting his dying mother... And war broke out. Already in 1940, when preparing a lecture on his beloved Vienna, he confessed to Alzir Hella - a close friend who later translated many of his works in French - "You'll be beaten." Zweig was seeing the thick darkness he feared spreading across Europe. He left England and reached the United States, where he thought he could set. Alas! His moral anxiety was undermining all stability. On 15 August 1941, he sailed to Brazil and settled in Petropolis, where he was still hoping to find peace of mind. In vain. On February 22, 1942, Stefan Zweig wrote the following farewell message:
"Before leaving life on my own behalf and clear-headed, I feel the need to complete a final task: send profound thanks to Brazil, this wonderful country which gave such a friendly and hospitable rest to me and my work. Day after day I learned to love it more and nowhere else I would have preferred to build a new life now that the world of my language has disappeared for me and that my spiritual land, Europe, has self destroyed.
But at the age of sixty one should have unique strengths to start one's life over again. And mine are exhausted by the long years of wandering. So I think it is better to end on time, and head up high, an existence in which intellectual work has always been the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good of this world.
I greet all my friends. May they still see the dawn after the long night! I am too impatient, I go before them. "
Stefan Zweig, Petropolis, 22-2-42
The next day, Stefan Zweig was no longer. To escape life he had taken drugs, a suicide without brutality that perfectly fit his nature. His wife followed him in death.