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Beware Of Pity

Hofmiller, an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer stationed at the edge of the empire, is invited to a party at the home of a rich local landowner, a world away from the dreary routine of the barracks. The surroundings are glamorous, wine flows freely, and the exhilarated young Hofmiller asks his host's lovely daughter for a dance, only to discover that sickness has left her painfully crippled. It is a minor blunder that will destroy his life, as pity and guilt gradually implicate him in a well-meaning but tragically wrongheaded plot to restore the unhappy invalid to Stefan Zweig, introduction by Joan Acocella, translated from the German by Phyllis and Trevor Blewitt

Beware of Pity

If I had read Beware of Pity five years ago, it might have hurt me as I had feared it would. I might have read it as my own story: hated Hofmiller, hated myself in Edith. But reading it now, over hot tea in the midst of a polar vortex, I found myself hating neither of them, understanding them both. Feeling something like compassion, maybe pity. Maybe even love.

Condor sees sickness as an offence against natural law and order, and so the doctor must attack it ruthlessly, using every weapon at his command. There must, he insists, be no pity for the sick, for, as he says, goodness and truth never yet succeeded in curing a single human being. In contrast to this harsh-sounding philosophy, his life is actually ruled by his compassion for the sick. Most of his waking hours are taken up by his patients. Zweig was a friend and admirer of Freud (see also BMJ 2007;335:567, doi 10.1136/bmj.39289.491343.59), and it has been suggested that this may have influenced the portrayal of Condor.

"Beware of Pity, his first venture in longer fiction, is original and powerful work...Zweig has chronicled a hopeless and tragic relationship in a manner that so holds the reader as never to dispirit him, telling a story full of psychological pitfalls that only an experienced writer, and an experienced human being could dare to attempt...Zweig remains, after Beware of Pity, what he seemed to be—in his novelettes and biographies—before he wrote it: a brilliant writer." —The New York Times"Admired by readers as diverse as Freud, Einstein, Toscanini, Thomas Mann and Herman Goering." —The New York Times"Herr Zweig presents this story with considerable skill, with compelling force...It is a good story." —The New York Times"What is so impressive about Beware of Pity is Zweig's ability to make us feel the violently shifting emotions of all his characters as if they were our own. Only a writer of great sensitivity could do this. His theme, or moral, which he does not obtrude on us in any clumsy way, is that impulsive pity for others is a dangerous emotion with embroils us in false situations, often with disastrous results." —Sunday Telegraph"Beware of Pity is an utterly unsparing dissection of the corruptions of false pity...In stripping away the lies with which we disguise our true desires from ourselves, Zweig lays bare the larger lies of the age: it was, in fact, the perfect novel for that 'low, dishonest decade,' as Auden termed it." —The New York Sun

What a great review of one of the books which really stood out for me in my youth. I saw a TV adaptation of it as well in Austria and the topics of pity and love, wanting to help but not being entirely honest (even with oneself) about motivations are absolutely timeless. I remember they made me think very deeply at the time.

Beware of Pity Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis tohelp you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:Plot SummaryChaptersCharactersObjects/PlacesThemesStyleQuotes This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz onBeware of Pity by Stefan Zweig.Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig is a journey by the reader thorough his or her own reactions of pity to the characters in the story. The main character, Anton Hofmiller, is a military officer who is invited to the home of Herr Lajos von Kekesfalva, a wealthy aristocrat, for dinner one evening. He inadvertently asks the man's crippled daughter, Edith, to dance, and her reaction is one of anger and shame. Feeling pity for the woman, Hofmiller returns to the house the following day to bring her flowers. Over time, he becomes friends with the family, and his continued feelings of pity for Edit and her father, as well as for the rest of the inhabitants of the house, cause Hofmiller problems. Edith, in turn, begins to use her condition as a tool for manipulating those around her as their pity causes them to react in ways they otherwise would not. Kekesfalva, the father, uses his own story of his love for his daughter to evoke pity in Hofmiller, as well.

Hofmiller's pity for Edith eventually leads him to lie to her, telling her that her doctor, Condor, has a new treatment for her that may work. Condor is angered and confronts Hofmiller, and the two devise a plan that they will not reveal the truth to Edith, as her positive attitude may help her actually recover. However, soon Edith discloses that she has fallen in love with Hofmiller. On his part, Hofmiller is angry and ashamed, and does not want her love, but when Edith threatens suicide, Hofmiller relents. When Kekesfalva dejectedly comes to Hofmiller in fear for his daughter, Hofmiller agrees to marry Edith, provided she recovers from her illness. When asked about this engagement, however, Hofmiller lies yet again, and realizes he has inadvertently ended both his career and his life. He cannot return to the Kekesfalva's, nor his regiment, since both sides will know he has lied to them. He realizes he must ask Edith for forgiveness, but his message does not go through to her. Thinking Hofmiller has betrayed her, Edith commits suicide. Kekesfalva, destroyed by these events, soon dies as well, and Hofmiller is sent to the war front. He learns to forgive himself, but on returning home, a chance encounter with Condor makes him realize he can never fully forgive his crimes of pity.

Zweig uses the reader's own emotions as a weapon throughout the novel as the characters move between the pitied and the one feeling pity for another. The reader finds him or herself feeling sorry for Hofmiller, but later feeling angry and frustrated at his actions. Edith, too, evokes pity, but her treatment of others and her overall behaviors leave one moving between pity and anger. The same is true for all other characters in the story as more is revealed about these character's lives and their own use of deceit and emotional abuse to manipulate others. In addition, while the book is a wonderful in-depth study of pity, it is also a skillfully written book that one finds delightfully gripping.

We then embark on a helter-skelter ride of Hofmiller's alternation between pity and repulsion, and the suspenseful, fateful knowledge that his weakness in trying to bring her happiness is going to end in disaster. McBurney and his actors build an extraordinary tension at times, especially in the climactic narrative of the eight days in which Anton must play a part (in more than one sense) in aiding the girl's latest search for a cure. Paradoxically, the most striking scene on stage, with its stress on the narrator's fear of female sexuality, is played out in near-darkness.

Stefan's Zweig's Beware of Pity is an almost unbearably tense and powerful tale of unrequited love and the danger of pity. The famous novel is published by Pushkin Press in a cloth bound hardback, beautifully designed by Nathan Burton and translated by the award-winning Anthea Bell. In 1913 a young second lieutenant discovers the terrible danger of pity. He had no idea the girl was lame when he asked her to dance his compensatory afternoon calls relieve his guilt but give her a dangerous glimmer of hope. Stefan Zweig's only novel is a devastating depiction of the torment of the betrayal of both honour and love, realised against the background of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.'Beware of Pity is the most exciting book I have ever read...a feverish, fascinating novel' - Anthony Beevor, Sunday TelegraphThe novel I'll really remember reading this year is Stefan Zweig's frighteningly gripping Beware of Pity, first published in 1939 ... and part of the ongoing, valiant reprinting by Pushkin Press of Zweig's collected oeuvre; an intoxicating, morally shaking read about human responsibilities and a real reminder of what fiction can do best'- Ali Smith, TLS Book of the Year 2008'An unremittingly tense parable about emotional blackmail, this is a book which turns every reader into a fanatic' - Julie Kavanagh, Intelligent Life (The Economist)'It's just a masterpiece. When I read it I thought, how is it that I don't already knowabout this?' Wes Anderson'The rediscovery of this extraordinary writer could well be on a par with last year's refinding of the long-lost Stoner, by John Williams, and which similarly could pluck his name out of a dusty obscurity.' Simon Winchester, Telegraph'Zweig's single greatest work' The Times'Zweig's fictional masterpiece' Guardian'Originaland powerful' New York TimesTranslated from the German by Anthea Bell, Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity is published by Pushkin Press.Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was born in Vienna, into a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family. He studied in Berlin and Vienna and was first known as a poet and translator, then as a biographer. Zweig travelled widely, living in Salzburg between the wars, and was an international bestseller with a string of hugely popular novellas including Letter from an Unknown Woman, Amok and Fear.In 1934, with the rise of Nazism, he moved to London, where he wrote his only novel Beware of Pity. He later moved on to Bath, taking British citizenship after the outbreak of the Second World War. With the fall of France in 1940 Zweig left Britain for New York, before settling in Brazil, where in 1942 he and his wife were found dead in an apparent double suicide. Much of his work is available from Pushkin Press. 041b061a72


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