The one thing that five of the six Stefan Zweig books currently in print in Britain have most strikingly in common is not the author’s consistency of style but his photograph opposite the title page. The most famous of these, The Royal Game, notorious in European and American chess circles for decades, is the only one innocent of his image, the publisher preferring instead to show us a sketch of the battleground whereupon that so-called royal game is fought. The photograph in the other five books is warmly revealing. Herr Zweig’s devilish Viennese smile – as evident yet as beautifully suppressed as a maître d’s as he spins a yarn to his richest and most despised customer that really, yes truly, there are no free tables tonight – underlines a polished French moustache which is given subtle uplift by the fourth finger of Zweig’s right hand lying against his cheek. Posing thus he exudes the supremely confident air of a conjuror, a salesman of Hispano-Suizas, a hypnotherapist; definitely someone not to be trusted – and one cannot help but speculate on what his left hand is doing.
I think I know. It is writing the books. For Stefan Zweig is one of those sinister figures – an author who became British yet was for ever Viennese – who is supremely capable of the hoodwinkery and legerdemain involved in arranging his features for a photograph whilst cunningly carrying on scribbling as the photographer, concealed within his little black hood, explodes the flash. (The photograph was taken in Berlin before Zweig gave up writing Strauss libretti and fled the Nazis. He then lived in Bath before moving to Brazil with his second wife where he killed himself in 1942.)
Zweig must be approached cautiously. He can turn the unsuspecting reader into a recluse or a coffee-house wastrel. Some years ago I was due at a party at 7 p.m. Earlier that day I had come across a copy of The Royal Game and, unable to wait until the weekend, I
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