There are few things, of equal length published these days, more satisfying than a story, or a novelette, by Stefan Zweig. The Viking Press has just published thirteen of them, in translation, under the title of “Kaleidoscope.” I strongly recommend this book, for no high-falutin’ reason involving appeal to the higher criticism, but for sheer enjoyment. You may not like all of the stories equally; no matter. These thirteen stories are a baker’s dozen, a generous overweight of fiction for the price.
I particularly recommend for your pleasure the stories entitled “The Burning Secret,” “Transfiguration,” “Fear,” “Leporella” and “The Invisible Collection,” although “Buchmendel,” “The Runaway” and “The Governess” are nothing to be sneezed at, despite the tenable objection to “Buchmendel” as a memoir rather than as a story. Besides, “Kaleidoscope” is as good a place as any in which to get a taste, in English, of the European fiction form known as novellen. In each one of the Zweigian examples of this form we have matter out of which your average novelist would make a full-bodied book. Zweig’s versions are no less full-bodied for being limited in length between a long short story and a thin book.
OF LASTING POWER
Indeed, before “Kaleidoscope” appeared, his publishers had taken individual stories and made separate books out of them. Take, for example, “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” one of the most poignant stories ever written, which I read some years ago in a collection of Zweig’s stories now out of print, “Passion and Pain.” In that volume I read some of the stories now included in “Kaleidoscope” and I think it is a test of power that I could read these stories again, with no less sense of suspense than that with which I first read them.
Zweig’s specialty, if that isn’t too commercial a word, is the soul in strife or forment. At least three of his stories and with suicides, but when you read the stories wherein suicides close the action, you won’t find that form of conclusion forced, or even revolting. Death fits into those stories without taking the emotional, or the spiritual, lift out of them.
Stefan Zweig renders beautifully the effect upon children of their discoveries of the motives which dominate their elders. “The Burning Secret” is the tale of a young lad who dimly, and then more surely, becomes aware of a flowering liason between his mother and a baron, who has ingratiated himself into the boy’s affections merely to have an easier access to his mother. There are few things in the book more delicate than Zweig’s revelation of the stages of the boy’s awareness and groping comprehension of what is happening.
In “The Governess” two little girls achieve awareness of the tragic situations inherent in maturity when their mother banishes their governess for what may euphemistically be termed a moral lapse. The stages of that knowledge in the little girls is no less delicately suggested than is the similar situation with reference to the little fellow in “The Burning Secret.”
A MAN IS TRANSFIGURED
“Transfiguration” is the story of a day in the life of a fashionable sated man to whom nothing mattered any more. The stages of that day are the stages of a private journey toward the achievement of understanding the fate of his fellow men and the sharing of their comprehension and their joys. The action starts at the race track and does not end until early dawn when the middle-aged dandy has learned the ecstasy of identity with his fellows, learning it only through shering in experiences he would have shunned.
“Fear” shares with “Moonbeam Alley” in being a little bit incredible, but “Fear” is far more logically developed, it seems to me. It is the story of an unfaithful woman who had drifted into an affair and is found out by a person who is for all purposes a blackmailer. It is in her true identity however that the piquancy of the story resides. But after the stories in which the action is reflected in the consciousnes of children, the most poignant one is that of the blind collector who takes joy in a collection of pictures which is no longer. In all of this comment I have given you only slight sips of the contents of the stories, as richly satisfying a collection as I have read-I repeat-in years.