On this day…12 September

On 12 September 1918 Stefan Zweig wrote to Joyce about Exiles.

Zweig had received a copy of Joyce’s play Exiles and he wrote on 12 September to say that he had read it and thought it was a “great artistic revelation.” He and Joyce met a few times after this, and Zweig left an account of their conversations in his autobiography.

Viennese-born Zweig had published several books before the outbreak of the First World War, and came to live in Switzerland during the war. Joyce lent him copies of Exiles and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and in his letter of 12 September Zweig praised Joyce’s play and said that he would do all he could to promote it.

At the time, Zweig was about to leave for a trip to Lake Geneva and he told Joyce that he hoped to meet him as soon as he returned. After their initial meetings in Zurich, they didn’t meet again until Joyce was in Salzburg in 1928. Zweig included his impressions of Joyce in his autobiography, Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday). Zweig claimed that Joyce was testy and that he harboured resentment against Dublin, against England and against particular individuals, but that this resentment also fuelled his literary creation.

According to Zweig, Joyce rejected all association with the English language, saying that he could not express himself in it without locking himself in a particular tradition. Apparently, Joyce claimed that he would like a language “which is above all languages, a language to which all will do service.”  On one occasion, Joyce asked Zweig how he would translate a particular sentence in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into German. They tried it in French and Italian, too, with Joyce demonstrating to Zweig his proficiency with languages other than English.

Ellmann in his biography of Joyce thought that Zweig might have been influential in finding Hannah von Mettal as a German translator for Exiles, but she had already written to Joyce in March 1918, months before Joyce and Zweig first got in contact, and there is no evidence that Mettal and Zweig were in contact. Ellmann also thought that it was probably through Zweig that the first production of Exiles was organised at the Munich Schauspielhaus in 1919, but again there seems to be no evidence of this.

In 1936 Zweig invited Joyce to join a committee to mark Sigmund Freud’s eightieth birthday. By then, Zweig was living in London: his works were banned and burned by the Nazis and he left Europe for North and later South America, settling just outside Rio de Janeiro in August 1940. On 22 February 1942 Zweig sent the manuscript of his autobiography Die Welt von Gestern to his publisher, and the following day he and his wife took their own lives.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

James Joyce – Paul Léon Papers in the National Library of Ireland – A catalogue, Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 1992.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Zweig, Stefan: The World of Yesterday, London: Pushkin Press, 2011.