Memory and the Humanitarian Ideal: An Interpretation of Stefan Zweig's Buchmendel

Turner, David
March 1979
Modern Austrian Literature;1979, Vol. 12 Issue 1, p43
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
This article examines the novel Buchmendel written by Stefan Zweig. The novel has a portrait of a poor Jewish book peddler who has an international bibliographical knowledge and attempts to communicate with foreign enemy book dealers even during the war years, as an expression of the ideal of world union through books and to construe his eventual downfall as a moral victory in physical defeat. Although the ideal of human brotherhood may be mooted briefly near the end of the novel, it is emphatically not in connection with Jakob Mendel himself, whose way of life is rather a denial of such an ideal. Although he is certainly defeated by events during and after World War I, there is no hint of victory in the defeat. And if the novel does embody something of the humanitarian ideal, it is to be found in a very different place. In this positive conclusion, as well as the negative, memory will be of central importance. Indeed, it is possible to regard Buchmendel as a study in memory, a faculty which in the bookseller's case is so vital that, as the events of the story show, without it Mendel himself ceases to be.


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