Tag Archives: Stephan Zweig

Kicking Against the Pricks

Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over. (9)
– D.H Lawrence, Sons and Lovers


In Stephan Zweig’s short story Burning Secret, he writes something along the lines of – there comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide, is she a mother, or a woman? For me it begs the question- why? Why must we ask ourselves that question? Because society says so? I certainly can not imagine a man having to face this sort of a false dilemma, nor can I deny that there is truth in it. And that is the real pity.

Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother’s heart melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears shook swiftly out of her very heart.

In Part One of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence carefully chronicles the life of the Morels: a struggling family, a loveless marriage, and the children that come into the world trying to fill the holes in their parent’s lives.

Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.

That is a perfectly beautiful description of delicious sleep, when your hand can rest in perfect trust on a body, whether it be: child, friend, or lover. The peace of our souls is found in each other – from the touch of the other, a beloved. Lawrence is such a wonderful writer, his use of colloquialisms, details of meager material objects, and the shared rapture of the glory of nature in the lives of mother and sons gives a clear picture of the family’s daily existence, allowing the deeper significance of the story to fully develop. It is Lawrence’s sensibility and keen sense of the importance of intimacy that is at the center of his novel.

Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him…

Mrs. Morel, sadly, goes straight to motherhood, her chance to be a woman is never realized and the disappointment just grows. Putting all her passion into being a mother, the decision of whether or not to be a woman too, is moot. With no deep connection to her husband there is just the empty space of desire left. Reading this novel one becomes aware of the limited vocabulary we have to discuss love and passion. Lawrence never suggests incest, and yet the nomenclature of romantic love does. Both romantic intimacy and the intimacy of mothering are physically pleasing and intensely fulfilling, but part of our emotional retardation is to always talk about physical pleasure as only sexual. Breastfeeding is an excellent case in point- physically pleasurable, and fulfilling in an entirely non-sexual way, the fact that breasts provide sexual pleasure as well should not be a source of confusion for people. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed because – breast are for sex, and we don’t do that in public – or talk about it.  Lawrence, has no such inhibition, he will leave sensuous terms as they are and dare you to be puerile. Women in Love has been described as homoerotic, if so, Sons and Lovers is incestuous, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is pornographic and you have lost the point altogether.

What Lawrence was really trying to discover was how, how can we deeply connect with one another? In Lady Chatterley’s Lover the sexual connection that is possible between lovers is a sacred thing. But it is deep connections generally that give our lives meaning. Our language cannot scratch the surface of our feelings. The words that we have to describe the love of friendship suffer the same problem in Women in Love as parental love in Sons and Lovers. Even when Lawrence is talking explicitly about sex, he is not talking about sex. His cri de coeur was the sine qua non of intimacy and connection of all kinds. Lawrence takes care to explore the complexities inherent: no matter how wonderful being a mother is- a mother is also a woman. Mrs. Morel’s mothering love in the absence of the woman inside her is a heavy and mournful thing. After all, a son loves his mother passionately, but it is the mother’s job to eventually deflect that passion away from herself and peripherally enjoy the realization of the child’s happy fulfilled life. In a healthy home, this happens naturally. The woman however, has the opposite aim- if she finds passion with another, and if it is returned, that is something she must hold on to, cherish and let bloom. The poverty of our words is frustrating and the word “passion” is sorely overworked.

At the end of Part One, William, the eldest son, is caught up in a relationship that mirrors his parents. Even as his mother attempts to caution him, he feels already morally committed and helpless to do anything other than see it through. She can not give him the inner strength required to rebel against societal expectations. The price is, of course, his soul.

“My boy, remember you’re taking your life in your hands,” said Mrs. Morel. “Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough. God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk.”

That’s the trouble with morals that go against truth and love, in the end, they are short sighted and punishing for all.


* “Kicking Against the Pricks” is a biblical reference Lawrence uses to mean, “rebelling.”

Your Venial Versatile Blogger Nominee

Straight to the after party!
pastel drawing by Victoria Accardi

I was nominated for an award here in the little world of wordpress bloggydom, but typically I failed to comprehend that this meant that I was nominated for an award. I’m a bit slow. I hate to be churlish and so will try to comply gratefully to the requirements of acceptance. Gee, my long awaited imaginary Oscar speech….

Thank you mofman for the nomination. You can see his beautiful and informative blog here: http://themofman.wordpress.com/about/

Just as I pictured, my mind goes blank, the words don’t come, I stand helplessly holding the gold statue looking stupidly at the camera as the time clock runs down. Say something idiot! My mind races, I’m overwhelmed: it’s possible I suddenly love everyone and have a burning desire to thank them all and their little dogs too. Don’t be an ass. I’ll try. Keep it simple. Okay, focus, where was I?  oh shit no more time…Thanks ever so, I’m so..very…very…

And my 15 nominees in no order are-
















Rules of engagement: Thank person who nominated you. Nominate 15 bloggers. Tell person who nominated you 7 things about yourself –

1) “He loved books; books are remote but reliable friends” Les Misérable, Victor Hugo

2) “Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with an equal eye.”  Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

3) “Better to have a bitter happiness than a grey dull life.”  Stalker (film)

4) “Between the desire and the spasm, between the essence and the descent.” TS Elliot

5) “Nothing is worth anything except through it” – Camus

6) “Love, according to the inmost laws  of its being, ever desires the illimitable, all finiteness, all moderation, is repugnant, intolerable to it.”  Stefan Zweig

7) “Let your enormous library be justified.” Jorge Luis Borges

Ready to Read

“For money does not always keep its value, unlike mankind, whose value is always the same, everything and nothing.”
José Saramago Baltasar and Blimunda

I came to the last paragraph late at night. I shut the the book and wept, opened the book again, reread the last paragraph, closed it, held it my hands for a moment and went straight to bed. I fell into a deep sweet sleep.
There are some books that move you to remember the time in your life when you didn’t even ask the question, “is it all just bullshit?” never mind the time when you answered it. Baltasar and Blimunda is such a book. It is kindness, innovation, mystery and love captured in a story of the Portuguese Royal Court, peasants and priests. A wonderful book.

I had previously read The Radetzky Waltz which was also a very good book: the pace and expression of monotony in the repressed and fading lives of the multi-generational Von Trotta family within the fading Austro-Hungarian Empire. Told with tenderness and written with humor – like  Zweig, Roth has a sophisticated understanding of the humor and sense of the absurdity that touches all aspects of life (see They Shoot Readers Don’t They?). But Baltasar and Blimunda touched me deeper.
Sometimes it is hard to know whether one is ready to start another book. Almost like drinking a gulp of water too soon after enjoying the lingering flavor of  something delicious in your mouth. But I was working today and so brought along A Visit From the Goon Squad. I was assigned to a boy who was actually absent. I had to go to his classes and take notes and write down his homework assignments. As it turned out I spent half the day in teacher’s room because “he” had gym or was reviewing for a quiz (Spanish), or watching the film Powers of Ten (science), so the teachers told me I didn’t have to stay as there were no notes to take.

I felt a little rejected because I didn’t have anywhere to go and also I wouldn’t have minded sitting in a Spanish class or watching a science film, although I have already seen Powers of Ten, (a Charles and Ray Eames film that is very cool, a few years ago my daughter and I got a little obsessed and watched a whole series of their short films).

Powers of Ten

The point is, I ended up having a lot of time to read. I am half way into the book now. Maybe it was the atmosphere of where I was reading, but I left work flat out exhausted from sitting on my ass all day in a windowless room reading a good but depressing book.

I don’t read as much modern literature as I do classic or period works, maybe the emptiness and sadness of our current world is a tad too in my face for me to seek it out in novels. Or maybe it is only because I was too recently affected by Baltasar and Blimunda: swept away in a feeling of something lovely and good in the world (which is of course just as sad then as now, and likewise probably just as good and beautiful now as then). But the gratuitous crassness of a lot of modern fiction often leaves me feeling icky.

I can’t decide if it enhances or disturbs (maybe both) the story by  reading it in an atmosphere where the sentences on the page are interspersed with bits and pieces of the conversations that surround me: “bread bowls of chili,” “fire killed the whole family,” “calories.” “going to the gym,” ” one more whopper” “the weather!” ” ice cream cake because that’s what I want.” Sometimes it all fits too perfectly. I thought I was worn out for the day, but I took a walk and the silly puffiness of the clouds cheered me up. I’m ready for the next 100 pages. Bring it on.

They Shoot Readers, Don’t They?

I was trying to work out what to read next as I came to the excellent end of Scarlet and Black (Stendhal). A friend of mine and her husband had just read A Visit From the Goon Squad and recommended it. I went to the online library catalogue to see if they had it. They did, but it was out and there was already a hold on it. I  put myself in the queue figuring I would have it in a few weeks. I started surfing around looking for more immediate prospects, and landed on an interview with the author Lars Iyer.

I was interested enough to look for his book Spurious, but no library in the state had it. I found it on Amazon and as the shipping cost more than the used copy, I purchased it. I figured I’d have it in a week or so. In the interview Iyer mentioned a scathing review of Stephan Zweig’s writing (and his rather strange desire to be critiqued in a similar meme). This past fall I had read some of  Zwieg’s books: The Royal Game and other short stories, Beware of Pity, Journey Into The Past, so I clicked on the link to the London Review of Books to see what it said. Scathing is a kind word for the complete evisceration of Zweig and his work. It was so intense it drew my attention away from the victim toward the denouncer. Who is this guy and what is his problem? I had quite enjoyed Zweig’s books. He was very unfavorably compared to his contemporaries, one of which was Joseph Roth. I had read Roth before I fell in with Zweig, and although I liked The 1002nd Night, I moved on to other authors.

Here in this anti-Zweig diatribe was a fevered insistance that Roth was obviously a genius but why he even bothered to be friends with the horrible writer Zweig was beyond the comprehension of the reviewer. Well, it was quite enough to put one off writing altogether. Life is painful enough without  having to endure such withering ad hominem attacks. Luckily Zweig is dead, so I needn’t worry on his account.  However, I was curious to revisit Roth now.  There was a copy of The Radetzky March at a nearby library, so I went to get it:

As I pick it off the shelf, having my choice of two copies (I choose the hard cover with no picture and a handy ribbon to mark one’s place), my eye snags on the “S” section. José Saramago. Damn it. I had forgot that I really wanted to read another one of his books (I had read The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis this past summer and really loved it), and there right in front of me is a very pretty copy of Baltasar and Blimunda. No, I tell myself, no no no, you have enough to read. But my hand picks it up anyway and then my feet just start to walk toward the circulation desk. I stop myself in the middle of the room and contemplate the weight of the pages in my hand. Oh all right, just move: you look ridiculous frozen on the middle of the floor.  I check them both out.

The next day I got an email from the library, The Goon Squad book is in. That was quick. When I got to the library I was surprised to see that there are actually two books waiting for me. I pick up the very hefty 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. When did I request that? I search my memory. I had just read a short story of his in The New Yorker, and I do remember that I then thought about his book The Savage Detectives, which I liked; I even recalled the memory of thinking about a good review I had read of 2666, but I had absolutely no memory of actually requesting it.

I searched my mind and there was nothing there. I really am a ghost in my machine, and as it turns out, my machine, like all others I use, runs its own programs mysteriously deleting and eating bits of information. Where do they go? Surely they must be on the hard drive, somewhere, but they are un-retrievable.
When I request a book I feel almost contractually bound to read it. It would be rude not to as the library has so kindly pulled it for me. So I brought them back to my abode and made a large pile on my desk – the due dates shout out at me. The next day Spurious came in the mail.