The Secret of Creation
: Stefan Zweig as Collector, Eulogist and Biographer of Balzac

  • Pardaad Chamsaz

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Stefan Zweig’s devotion to mediating cultural history has often been dismissed for its hyperbole, its lack of engagement with socio-political factors, and its proximity to a cult of genius around contemporary authors. This thesis does not deny Zweig’s tendency towards abstraction and his flight from the real but seeks to complicate such idealism by rethinking three particular groups of texts in their material contexts. First, thanks to the project’s proximity to the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection, the discussion develops a theoretical understanding of Zweig as collector and as a reader of manuscripts. Focusing on the materiality of textual production and reception, Zweig’s essays animate an encounter with manuscripts that are as much to do with traces as they are authors. Ultimately, the author searches for the secret of creation, not the creator. Second, the thesis considers Zweig’s eulogies as a distinct genre, making the case that such texts respond to specific deaths, and thus cannot be read simply for harmonizing rhetorical strategies. The social, literary and personal contexts become significant in the re-interpretation of a genre that entails a process of mourning. Third, the focus on material texts and on remembering creative figures is united in a discussion of Zweig’s unfinished Balzac biography. It makes the case that Zweig’s lifelong preoccupation with Balzac had a textual basis, as Balzac’s own manuscripts, his letters, diaries, reflections, and works ultimately infected Zweig’s process. This lays the ground to expand Zweig’s biography to include its compositional process and this section uses archival material to interpret the revisions made by the biographer between first and second drafts. Ultimately, rethinking Zweig’s writing in terms of his own sustained interest in literary materiality opens it to new critical relationships. For Zweig, nothing can be understood without an understanding of the secret of creation.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsBritish Library & Arts and Humanities Research Council
SupervisorSteffan G Davies (Supervisor) & Robert Vilain (Supervisor)

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