We don’t know how lucky we are, having access to many forms of communication, electronic or postal, and being free of censorship.  Here Stefan Zweig describes the conditions in which he had to write The World of Yesterday, a moving, lucid account of his world and its values from the late 19th century to the beginning of the Second World War. 

It’s a superb overview of life in the late-Hapsburg empire and the interwar years, particularly for a wealthy Jewish family and a member of the pan-European intelligentsia.  It is also one of the clearest accounts of how and why Europe stumbled into the First World War after decades of general peace and growing prosperity. 

The day after he finished writing this book, he committed suicide with his wife, in exile in Brazil, having apparently lost hope that the world could recover from its latest blast of mass insanity and violence. 

I write in the middle of the war, I write abroad and with nothing to jog my memory; I have no copies of my books, no notes, no letters from friends available here in my hotel room.  There is nowhere I can go for information, because all over the world postal services between countries have been halted or are subject to censorship. 

See other comments on the importance of war time correspondence, and its difficulties, by Iris Origo who kept a war diary in the heart of Tuscany.  See also Durrell’s comment on a functioning post office, and street lighting, as the first signals of recovering civilization.


Source: Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday, trans. Anthea Bell (London: Pushkin Press, 2011), foreword, p. 22

Photo credit: Spotsoflight at pixabay


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