Beware of Pity : Stefan Zweig and the Fate of Narrative Empathy under Surveillance

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-260
Journal / PublicationNovel: A Forum on Fiction
Volume52
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Abstract

In the epigraph to his 1939 novel Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig distinguishes between a form of “unsentimental but creative” empathy and a mode of “weak-minded, sentimental pity” that serves only as a “way of defending yourself against someone else's pain.” Focusing on Beware of Pity as well as The Post Office Girl and Chess, this article interprets Zweig's epigraph as a commentary on narrative as well as interpersonal forms of engagement, centered upon his conception of the relationship between author/narrator and suffering protagonist. Drawing on the work of David Rosen and Aaron Santesso, it further posits “empathetic surveillance” as a figure through which to assess this relationship, because Zweig can frequently be found to experiment with narrative distance and observation where the scene of suffering is concerned. His late writing demonstrates an attempt to work through his own conflicting wartime experiences of fellow feeling, but it also offers a sustained reflection on the implications of a broader crisis in empathy on a narrative level around the Second World War. The article characterizes Zweig's particular approach to narrative empathy in terms of an “empathic realism,” which can be defined both against what Meghan Marie Hammond has recently called “empathic modernism” and in contradistinction to nineteenth-century “sympathetic realism.” Poised between pre- and postwar outlooks, his work provides valuable insights on the changing contours of empathetic authorship across the twentieth century.