Beautiful stories about love and loss, they are deeply sentimental, in the sense of prompting tender feelings of sadness in the reader, but without a touch of sentimentalism, in the sense of overdoing it: this collection of short stories does not tug at the heart strings in the crass way that many modem novels do, those that are hugely successful for a moment and then quickly forgotten about.
As per the Spectator: “Of these, Letter From an Unknown Woman is superb. The 12-page letter to the beloved is to be read only after the writer’s death. It starts along familiar, even slightly tedious lines. A 13-year-old girl conceives a crush on the man across the hall, a good-looking, fastidious, famous author; he lives alone with his elderly man-servant and comes home with elegant women. She gazes at him through the spy-hole in her parents’ front door and sometimes lurks outside hoping for a glimpse of her ‘beloved’.
When she is old enough she gets a job in a shop and continues to stalk him. One day when she is 18 he stops her in the street — she is very pretty — but doesn’t recognise her as the little neighbour from across the hall because he never remembers anything that might intrude on his total self-regard. He invites her to a meal, then to three nights of passion, and forgets her. She has his child but never tells him.
To escape from poverty she sells herself, as she puts it, to rich men, many of whom beg her to marry them. One night her beloved sees her in a restaurant with one of her titled clients. Of course he has no idea who she is, invites her back to his flat for another passionate night, and, inevitably, she never hears from him again. Their child dies, she is in a dark place, and writes him the letter. He is stirred a bit, just a bit, by a faint memory ‘as of distant music’.
What we have here is a double portrait: she describes him minutely, wholly without judgment; simply put, he is a shit.
In The Debt Paid Late, a married woman visiting a small-town café on her own recognises a once-famous actor with whom she was besotted when she was very young. He is now a helpless, shambling, down-and-out bore, slighted by all. She tells him what he once meant to her, and divulges his history to the amazed café owner and the customers. She arranges things so he will have some money for the rest of his life and enjoy the respect of his neighbours.
Readers new to Stefan Zweig should start here.”