Solving the mystery of Stefan Zweig’s international success: new book out now!

from the publisher:

During his lifetime Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) was among the most widely read German-language writers in the world. Always controversial, he fell into critical disfavor as writers and critics in a devastated postwar Europe attacked the poor literary quality of his works and excoriated his apolitical fiction as naïve Habsburg nostalgia. Yet in other parts of the world, Zweig’s works have enjoyed continued admiration and popularity, even canonical status.

China’s Stefan Zweig unveils the extraordinary success of Zweig’s novellas in China, where he has been read in an entirely different way. During the New Culture Movement of the 1920s, Zweig’s novellas were discovered by intellectuals turning against Confucian tradition. In the 1930s, left-wing scholars criticized Zweig as a decadent bourgeois writer, yet after the communist victory in 1949 he was re-introduced as a political writer whose detailed psychological descriptions exposed a brutal and hypocritical bourgeois capitalist society. In the 1980s, after the Cultural Revolution, Zweig’s works triggered a large-scale “Stefan Zweig fever,” where Zweig-style female figures, the gentle, loving, and self-sacrificing women who populate his novels, became the feminine ideal. Zweig’s seemingly anachronistic poetics of femininity allowed feminists to criticize Maoist gender politics by praising Zweig as “the anatomist of the female heart.” As Arnhilt Hoefle makes clear, Zweig’s works have never been passively received. Intermediaries have actively selected, interpreted, and translated his works for very different purposes.

China’s Stefan Zweig not only re-conceptualizes our understanding of cross-cultural reception and its underlying dynamics, but proposes a serious re-evaluation of one of the most successful yet misunderstood European writers of the twentieth century. Zweig’s works, which have inspired recent film adaptations such as Xu Jinglei’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (2005) and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), are only beginning to be rediscovered in Europe and North America, but the heated debate about his literary merit continues. This book, with its wealth of hitherto unexplored Chinese-language sources, sheds light on the Stefan Zweig conundrum through the lens of his Chinese reception to reveal surprising, and long overlooked, literary dimensions of his works.


Arnhilt Johanna Hoefle, China’s Stefan Zweig. The Dynamics of Cross-Cultural Reception. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2018.


Coming soon: China’s Stefan Zweig

My book on the fascinating reception history of the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) in the Chinese-speaking world is forthcoming with University of Hawai’i Press (Critical Interventions) this autumn/winter!

Watch out for updates!


Stefan Zweig on the Screen: Maria Schrader’s Vor der Morgenröte

Maria Schrader’s episodic film Vor der Morgenröte, which is released today on 2 June 2016, depicts the last years in the life of Stefan Zweig. It is the most recent manifestation of a re-discovered interest in Zweig. It is different from other projects that have tried to solve the enigma of this best-loved and best-hated Austrian writer. In his arguably sensationalist book Ulrich Weinzierl for example claims to have discovered Zweig’s “burning secrets,” in particular his alleged homosexual and pedophile fantasies and exhibitionist habits as a young man (see this critical review by Stephan Resch). Schrader’s film, on the contrary, carefully negotiates Zweig’s role as the world’s most famous writer before and during the Second World War.

Framed by a prologue and an epilogue the film catches up with Zweig in four episodes between 1936 and his suicide in 1942. The first one shows Zweig during his journey to South America in 1936, on his way to represent the German-speaking writers at the 14th International PEN Congress in Buenos Aires. Compared to the outspokenly antifascist Emil Ludwig, who soon becomes the Argentine newspapers’ star, Zweig refuses to speak against Germany. Writers should focus on their work and not become involved in politics.

His contemporaries accuse him of cowardice and arrogance, charges that echo in his European and North American reception throughout the century and until the present day. Apart from questioning his works’ quality (some might remember Michael Hofmann’s attack on the “Pepsi of Austrian writing” of 2010), his skepticism towards politics is one of the most important reasons for his controversial position within the canon of modern German-language literature.

Vor der Morgenröte is the second film directed by the acclaimed actress Maria Schrader, who is nominated for the German Film Prize. Stefan Zweig is played in a grandiose performance by Josef Hader, otherwise famous as a satirical cabaret artist or the always grumpy private detective Brenner in the film adaptations of Wolf Haas’ crime novels. He is accompanied by two, in their very own way, very strong women: Aenne Schwarz as his second wife Lotte Zweig and Barbara Sukowa, who is also nominated for the German Film Prize as best supporting actress, as his ex-wife Friderike Zweig. The film is a cinematographic masterpiece, thanks to cameraman Wolfgang Thaler, who is known for his work with the Austrian directors Michael Glawogger and Ulrich Seidl.

The film neither intends to condemn nor to defend Zweig. Its strength is to allow us a glimpse into the depths, the friendships and alliances but also the conflicts, solitude and the despair of exile – then and now.

Vor der Morgenröte is featured as the film of the month by, a cooperation of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung and Vision Kino. Apart from interviews with director Maria Schrader and cameraman Wolfgang Thaler, the online platform provides a film review, background articles on German-language exile literature in the 1930s and the narrative strategies of the biopic as well as a set of practical suggestions for teachers.

Talk: Stefan Zweig and (World) Literature in Exile

The reception of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) presents one of the greatest literary conundrums of our time. While in the 1920s, at the height of his career, the Austrian-Jewish novelist was among the most widely read and most-acclaimed German-language writers, his works fell into radical critical disfavor in the second half of the century.

The allegedly poor literary quality and his apolitical nostalgic approach as an exiled Jewish writer during the Holocaust, have become the main targets of his critics in Europe and North America. However, Zweig’s works have enjoyed not only continued admiration but even canonical status in other parts of the world, such as in China.

In this upcoming talk on January 26, 2016 at the University of Hamburg I will take the Chinese reception of Zweig as a case study to introduce a different way of reading the Austrian writer that reveals important political and literary dimensions that have long been overlooked.

According to David Damrosch, literary works enter into world literature when they circulate beyond the culture of origin. Despite the truly global scale of Stefan Zweig’s biography, literary settings, and readership, the concept of world literature has just recently been discussed in research on the writer, for example in the volume Stefan Zweig and World Literature of 2014 edited by Birger Vanwesenbeeck and Mark H. Gelber.

While circulating and thriving around the world, Zweig’s works have been almost completely removed from their original linguistic and cultural context in the course of the twentieth century. This talk therefore argues that Zweig’s works must be considered not only as exile literature but as “literature in exile.” It thus showcases the intricate and problematic interrelations of exile literature and world literature and explores new perspectives for an urgently needed re-conceptualization of these contested concepts.

The talk will be hosted by the Walter A. Berendsohn Forschungsstelle für deutsche Exilliteratur, a research center dedicated to exile literature at the University of Hamburg, which has been re-named in 2001 after one of the pioneers of academic research into literature by exiled German-language writers.

Walter A. Berendsohn (1884-1984) had been a professor of literary studies at the University of Hamburg who escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Denmark and Sweden. Adverse university politics prevented him from returning to Hamburg even after 1945. Only in 1983, almost hundred years old, he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Berendsohn had already prominently pointed out the close relationship between exile literature and world literature, which is also one of the main research areas of the center. Focusing on historical as well as contemporary experiences of exile, the team around Prof. Doerte Bischoff, who was appointed the research center’s head in 2011, is giving a fresh impetus into a field which, given the current European “refugee crisis,” pertains to one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Talk (in German) by Arnhilt Johanna Hoefle
Stefan Zweig und (Welt-)Literatur im Exil
January 26, 2016
Carl-von-Ossietzky-Lesesaal (Exilbibliothek)
Von-Melle-Park 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

Free admission and all welcome!