A European Union?


Gavin Jacobson in The Nation:

In December 1930, Stefan Zweig began writing a biography of Marie Antoinette. He was living in Salzburg, Austria, having moved there from Vienna in 1919 after World War I. He was almost 50 and at the height of his literary fame, living comfortably on the Kapuzinerberg in a large yellow villa crowned with turrets and ringed by high walls. When he wasn’t writing, he was traveling to Berlin or Paris, calling on the artistic celebrities of the day like a modern Boswell. When in Vienna, he went to the opera or lounged in cafés with Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler. It was a good life lived in the gloaming of interwar Europe.

“With diabolical cunning,” Zweig wrote of the French queen,

history began making a spoiled darling of Marie Antoinette, who had the Kaiserhof as a home in childhood, wore a crown before she was out of her teens, had charm and grace and wealth in liberal measure…. But destiny, having raised her to the pinnacle of good fortune, dragged her down again with the utmost refinements of cruelty…. Unaccustomed to suffering, she resisted and sought to escape. But with the ruthlessness of an artist who will not desist from his travail until he has wrung the last possibilities from the stubborn clay he is fashioning, the deliberate hand of misfortune continued to mould, to knead, to chisel, and to hammer Marie Antoinette.

Behind this portrayal of individual apocalypse lay self-description and prophetic vision. Like Marie Antoinette, Zweig was charming and graceful. Klaus Mann described him as the embodiment of Vienna’s cultural kaleidoscope, fusing “French suavity with a touch of German pensiveness and a faint tinge of Oriental eccentricity.”

He was also rich. His father was a businessman who turned a weaving mill in northern Bohemia into a booming industrial success. His mother had strong banking connections in Italy, and Zweig inherited a large portion of the family pile in his late teens. His apartment in Vienna was an epicurean domain of rare books set against walls of burning scarlet, of gold leaf dusted into goblets of heady liquor; the rooms were stuffed with the relics of genius, such as one of Beethoven’s desks, as well as cavernous, crimson leather armchairs. Whereas many of his Central European contemporaries sat down to write after spending a long day at the office (Kafka famously worked at an insurance firm), Zweig was able to devote himself to his writing full time.

More here.