Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

first published 1982   This translation 2008 by Joel Rotenberg

Set in the mid 1920s in Austria and Switzerland


Christine feels herself flushing, down to her chest. So she’d been disgracing them from the moment they saw her—no doubt her aunt and uncle were both ashamed on her account. But how sweetly her aunt tries to help, veils her handouts, goes out of her way not to hurt her.

“But how could I wear your dresses, Aunt?” she stammers. “They’re certainly much too fancy for me.”

“Nonsense, they suit you better than they do me… “

 In a flash she’s taken one of the filmy garments and held it skillfully against her own (suddenly with the casual, graceful movements of the long-forgotten dress model). It’s ivory-colored, with floral edging in a Japanese style;




it seems to glow in contrast to the next one, a midnight-black silk dress with flickering red flames. The third is pond-green with veins of silver, and all three seem so fantastic to Christine that she doesn’t dare to think they could be hers.
How could she ever wear such splendid and fragile treasures without constantly worrying? How do you walk, how do you move in such a mist of color and light? Don’t you have to learn how to wear clothes like these? She gazes humbly at the exquisite garments.





observations: Erica Susan Jones, tweeting as Brite-Eyed Violet, very carefully recommended this book: she said she wasn’t sure about it, ‘but in Part One there's a clothes transformation scene that your blog always brings to mind’ – well of course that was enough to set me off and I read it ASAP, and I completely agree with her: it is one weird book. As she also says, it feels as though it has been written by two different authors.

It is long for Zweig – his books are usually more like novellas – and it  wasn’t published till long after his death; so it’s not certain that the final form is as he would have wanted it. (It ends very abruptly, but that might be intentional.) Someone described it as ‘Cinderella meets Bonnie and Clyde’ and you can see what they mean, though you could throw in John Reed and Louise Bryant as well. In the first half Christine, the poverty-stricken Post Office girl of the title, goes on a luxurious holiday with her aunt. This comes to a sudden end, and she is pushed back into her old life, no longer satisfied. She meets a man who is similarly unhappy about his prospects in post-WWI Austria, and they wonder what kind of a future they could have together, and they make plans.

The two halves run awkwardly together, and the overall effect is unsatisfying, but Zweig is always a compelling writer, and I was extremely impressed by the way he gets into Christine’s head, and by his descriptions of her excitement over the new clothes, the luxury hotel and the attention from men.

With thanks to Brite-Eyed Violet – who has promised further book recommendations, I’m glad to say.

Links on the blog: Only a week or two ago the blog was short of an author whose name begins with Z, and here’s another one. The holiday in the first half is strangely reminscent of Hotel du Lac, only the Zweig is about ten times better.

The first picture is by Max Klinger , the second by George Wesley Bellows, the third by Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, I can't begin to say how special I feel that one of my little tweets led to a post on your beautiful blog.

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  2. Moira - As ever, you've got me intrigued. This is a Zweig I hadn't heard of before and it sounds like a really interesting, if odd, one. I'm intrigued just by the change in clothes. Thanks to both you and Erica.

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