Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Post-Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig

I really enjoyed this bittersweet novella of Zweig's. I'd long heard of  him but this was my first plunge into his work. It's a bit of an anti-Cinderella story, I suppose, where the princess does get to go to the ball, but the prince doesn't bother to come find her later. Christine is working in a remote Austrian village in between the two Great Wars. Her mother is an invalid, they are poor and Christine works at the post office, without much hope of change. Out of the blue a wealthy aunt extends her an invitation to join her in a luxury hotel, and Christine begins to live, breathe and dream again. We've had a great discussion over on the New York Review of Books discussion forum over at GoodReads , which is an open group--feel free to join us--we're on to Berlin Stories by Robert Walser. 

There is a lot to say about this book, but as someone pointed out to me early on, Zweig was exquisite at rendering subtle psychological states. I was particularly struck by this one, because it shows the mind still remembering its cage:

In this new world even sleep is different: blacker, denser, more drugged, you're completely submerged in yourself. As she awakens Christine hauls her drowned senses out of these new depths, slowly, laboriously, bit by bit, as though from a bottomless well. First she has an uncertain sense of the time. Through her eyelids she sees brightness; the room must be light, it must be day. It's a vague, muffled feeling, followed by an anxious thought (even while she's still asleep): Dont' forget about work! Don't be late! The train of thought she's known for the last ten years begins automatically: The alarm clock will ring now... Don't go back to sleep... Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility... Get up now, work starts at eight, and before that I'll have to get the heat started, make coffee, get the milk, the rolls, tidy up, change mother's bandages, prepare for lunch, and what else? There's something else  I have to do today...Right, pay the grocer lady, she reminded me yesterday...No, don't doze off, stay alert, get up when the alarm goes off... But what's the problem today...What's keeping it...Is the alarm clock broken, did I forget to wind it...where's the alarm, it's light in the room...Goodness, maybe I overslept and it's already seven or eight or nine and people are cursing at the wicket the way they did that time when I wasn't feeling well, right away they wanted to complain to the head office...And so many employees are being let go these days... Dear God, I can't be late, I can't oversleep...The long-buried fear of being late is like a mole tunneling under the black soil of sleep. Abruptly the last of it falls away.

It seemed fitting that my blog friend PQ was talking about a similar supression of life over on his blog, A Building Roam , where he is currently much taken with Robert Anton Wilson, among others. Here, he is quoting Buckminster Fuller, a figure not unknown in Santa Cruz:

Let us regard wage-work---as most people do, in fact, regard it---as a curse, a drag, a nuisance, a barrier that stands between us and what we really want to do. In that case, your job is the disease, and unemployment is the cure.
"But without working for wages we'll all starve to death!?! Won't we?"
Not at all. Many farseeing social thinkers have suggested intelligent and plausible plans for adapting to a society of rising unemployment.
The mentality of the wage earner seems to be reported on from many angles in my life right now, and not usually in the most positive light. It makes me wonder what is coming...


  1. Stefan Zweig's non-fiction is now available in eBook form: Stefan Zweig eBooks

  2. Thank you, Patrick. That's good to know.I have a few more paper books of Zweig's to get to, but I will keep these in mind.