The Post-Office Girl

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The Post-Office Girl

Post by Stefanie on Wed Apr 01, 2009 12:06 am

Okay, so I thought I'd start the forum since no one else has yet. What did everyone think of the ending? I think Iliana summed it up as "wow." I was totally thrown for a loop because I had already resigned myself to getting the tissues since I thought I was going to have a murder/suicide to deal with. Do you think their theft was successful? And if so, do you think they could ever find the life and happiness they wanted?

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by iliana on Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:39 am

I, too, was expecting some violence. I kept fearing for other people's lives actually thinking that Christine and Ferdinand were going to murder someone for their money or someone would be at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

So in a way, I was relieved by the ending. I have been thinking about the two a lot and have come to different conclusions. However, I don't see them ending very happy anywhere. While money could have certainly helped their lives, for Christine I sort of felt that it was more than the money. I get the feeling that she learned about class differences and even if they had quite a bit of money how long would that last and then what? Go back to working and saving and being on the outside again?

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Grad on Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:51 pm

I thought the ending was something like a skewed "the lady or the tiger," only behind the doors there was no lady...only "the lion or the tiger." You know you're going to get eaten, who just don't know by what. They were probably successful in pulling off their crime. The news is always filled with clever crimes committed by clever people using their cleverness the wrong way, for quick gain, at the expense of others. Identity theft comes most readily to mind. In the early days of slipping bills into vending machines to get stamps, drinks, candy, etc., a very clever fellow found that if he xeroxed the fronts and backs of five dollar bills, the machines were not sophisticated enough to know the difference. He was able to get thousands of dollars back in change before he was discovered (as crooks often are - even the clever ones.) So, yes, I think they pulled it off. I agree with Iliana that they never found happiness. Like the Beatles sang, "Money Can't Buy Me Love."

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Grad on Wed Apr 01, 2009 6:07 pm

How could Zweig have been a humanist, and still have his characters contemplate suicide (how could he have followed through with his own) since, according to the definitions I've read, the doctrine emphasizes a person's capacity for self-realization through reason, and which honors the dignity and worth of people? Certainly, taking any life - including ones one - doesn't square with that philosophy - even if you exclude relgious or spiritual beliefs. Any thoughts?

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Stefanie on Wed Apr 01, 2009 11:25 pm

Yeah, they probably pulled it off, had a brief but fleeting glimpse of happiness then found that it wasn't the money they wanted and ended up hating each other.

Grad, you ask an interesting question about humanism. I am not completely familiar with all of it, but could one say that Christine and Ferdinand reasoned that there was no way, given their circumstances, that they would be able to improve their lot? And so, instead of suffering in poverty without dignity or hope they logically chose to end their lives by suicide. If there is no perceived chance at self-realization, I can see how one can think that suicide is reasonable.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by dsimpson on Thu Apr 02, 2009 12:10 am

I sort of wondered if there might have been a third part planned but never written. I wouldn't have minded more (actually any) explanatory notes on the text and author to fill things in. Even if they pulled off the robbery, and I'm sure they would have at least initially, I wonder if they could have found any happiness either. I don't think Christine could ever have achieved that momentary happiness that she did while at the Swiss resort. Her aunt pulled herself out of poverty, but look at the fear she lived with later on. She ditched Christine as soon as she thought her own indiscretions might have been found out.

I'm afraid I don't really know anything about the humanist philosophy either, so I can shed no light on Zweig himself. I've been trying to imagine what it must have been like in the 20s and 30s. Austria lost the war, they were dealing with hyper inflation--their money was worth nothing. I think being poor in America today is not comparable to how it was then. It really must have been very bleak for the very poor. They came out of one war in defeat living in a completely depressed economy and it's almost not surprising that Hitler was able to grab power and of course look where that led. Grad raised a good point on the blog, however, that many people during the Holocaust dealt with far worse and survived, so what made Christine and Ferdinand chose to consider suicide? Of course on the flip side everyone reacts differently. Faced with no future--or only one filled with misery, and egged on by Ferdinand, it maybe isn't so surprising Christine would have so readily agreed to killing herself. Lots of interesting questions and I'm not entirely sure what any of the answers are!

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by iliana on Thu Apr 02, 2009 12:56 am

Grad, welcome to the forum! You bring up some very interesting points. I don’t really know much about this philosophy but I was interested in what you said about the doctrine emphasizing a person’s capacity for self-realization through reason.

I like that and I think Stefanie makes a good point of how they logically came to the conclusion that it was the best option for them.
I also wonder though, if you are at such an emotionally low point in your life, well reason is probably not the first factor motivating your decisions. Granted these two seemed very logical but I did wonder how much stress and/or depression forced their actions.

And, Danielle, you bring up an excellent point that I was thinking of throughout the book. I mean, yes their lives were dreary but you see so much poverty all over the world, even worse poverty and circumstances and yet those people get on. Wasn’t there even a story that came out not too long ago about which were some of the most happiest countries and the results were surprising as they weren’t some of the more richer countries.

Not to dismiss their feelings because obviously what you feel is real but it just made me think about that. How is it that some people are able to move forward and others not?

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Rebecca H. on Thu Apr 02, 2009 1:16 am

I agree with you all about the ending -- it seems likely to me they got away with it, but only for a little while. Either they will get caught eventually, or they will end up unhappy in spite of getting away with it. But I think even they expected to get away with it only for a little while, and it seemed to me that this was Zweig's way of hinting at what would happen. Ferdinand is probably right that he and Christine are unfortunately the types for whom very little ever goes right. They just seem fated to suffer.

And I suppose I'm sympathetic with their logic about suicide. Probably yes, they weren't seeing the whole picture; there may have been a way for them to dig out of their poverty without resorting to crime, but in their situations they just couldn't see it, and really, the book offers very little of the hope I'm describing here. It's just so bleak, and given that bleakness, what's the point of struggling? Maybe, thinking about Grad's point about humanism, Zweig is pointing out that humanism is all well and good if people are reasonably comfortable in their lives, but it just doesn't work if people don't have hope? That humanism can flourish only given certain economic conditions?

I really enjoyed this book -- I like how bracing it was and how it made me think about difficult questions like whether crime is ever justified and whether suicide ever makes sense.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by dsimpson on Thu Apr 02, 2009 2:00 am

I think given their situations, the actions they took were probably a logical progression. Ferdinand had already fought a war that was lost, and then missed the train by an hour that would have taken him home--instead he ended up on the Russian front--for years, very harsh years at that. Then when he should have been welcomed home to his country--they literally turned their backs on him--where he had lived had become part of Italy (if I understood that part correctly). He was denied any sort of benefits. He was on the edge. And then Christine received a first hand look at the social inequalities prevalent at the time--for some life was easy and others life was hard--all depending on which social strata you were born in--and hard work wasn't going to get you out of the lower one.

The book did ask difficult questions! I wonder how much of this mirrored what Zweig was seeing and feeling himself considering how his life had turned out.

Edited--I was also thinking about how both Christine and Ferdinand had lost all their dignity. Christine was humiliated in Switzerland. She came home to nothing--her mother was dead and her family ready to make off with her few belongings and be done with it. She couldn't even get transferred to Vienna to another post office. Of course I've already mentioned what Ferdinand went through. They couldn't even find a place to be together without being harrassed (no doubt the wealthier segment of society had no worries there). Money is one thing, but when you lose even your sense of dignity--that has to be pretty low. What else can you fall back on?


Last edited by dtorres on Thu Apr 02, 2009 2:39 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Rebecca H. on Thu Apr 02, 2009 2:05 am

I think you're exactly right, Danielle -- the book shows two people who have suffered until they can't suffer any more. It shows the process by which people can be broken down. I think Ferdinand himself acknowledges that he might well improve his life through hard work even now, but he just doesn't have the energy and the will to struggle any more. People can only stand so much, the book seems to say, and then they just can't stand any more. So why not steal the money, given the circumstances?

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by dsimpson on Thu Apr 02, 2009 2:24 am

I probably shouldn't do this, but I lifted this quote from an Amazon reviewer, who I believe must be an editor at NYRB (as that's what the byline said):

"Zweig wrote The Post-Office Girl in the early 1930s, working on it during years that Hitler rose to power and that saw Zweig, as a Jew, forced into exile. He appears to have considered the book finished, and yet he left it untitled and made no effort to publish. Why? My own hunch is that it was just too close to the bone. Zweig was famous all over the world as a writer of fiction and non-fiction and as a public intellectual. He was, you could say, the standard bearer for a certain liberal ideal of civilization, for a way of life that is worldly, compassionate, cultivated, tolerant, sensitive, self-aware, and reflexively touched with irony; the life of, as he considered himself, a man of taste and judgment. In the face of Nazism, such an ideal may have come to seem so much wishful thinking, and certainly Zweig, in exile, found his whole reason for living undercut. This, it seems to me, is the trauma that The Post-Office Girl registers. It accounts for the raw power and relentlessness of the book, for its difference from his other work, and also, I imagine, for Zweig's uneasiness about it. He couldn't put it or the reality it describes in perspective. I don't think that it's an accident that The Post-Office Girl, though finished in the mid-30s, finds Zweig rehearsing a scenario for suicide that clearly anticipates his and his wife's deaths in Brazil in 1942."

It seems very telling to me. It must have been devastating for one so liberal and culturally oriented as he was to see which way society was turning. And to see his own work thrown on to the bonfires.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Grad on Thu Apr 02, 2009 3:40 pm

Dorothy W. made a great point that maybe humanism can only work given certain economic conditions. But, if that is the case, of what use is the philosophy? I mean, shouldn't the philosophy that we choose to live our lives by be something we can depend upon, whatever comes our way? A philosophy that only works when times are good doesn't seem very practical or attractive. Don't we all face tragedy, illness, despair at some point? The only experience I have had with suicide was when I was a junior in college. It was an ordinary day in the dorm. I was folding clothes on my bed, my roommate was writing a paper. A hall telephone rang and Judy, one of our neighbors, was called to the phone. At first silence, then a moaning scream coming from a deep and terrible place. So raw and so wrenching that I can remember the way the room looked...the color of the towel I was folding...the dust that floated in the light coming through the window. By the time we got into the hall, friends were holding Judy up, the resident faculty advisor rushing toward her with her arms out. Judy's younger brother had hung himself in their parents' basement. What I saw of suicide was not noble, or pretty, or neat. It left Judy and her parents broken, grieving, and asking questions that would never be answered. It touched those of us who were only on the periphery in a dark and enduring way...and we didn't even know him.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Rebecca H. on Fri Apr 03, 2009 12:49 am

Thanks for posting that, Danielle -- it's a useful passage. Putting it together with what Litlove wrote, it makes sense to me that the book expresses his anger at ideals gone wrong, and I think the stronger the ideal the stronger the disappointment and the anger. It's interesting to know, too, that this book is different from his other work. Have you found Beware of Pity to be different from this one? (Or maybe you need to read further to see?)

Grad -- what a hard experience, even for those on the periphery, as you say. Your post does make me think about how Zweig is maybe romanticizing suicide, making it sound like a noble and brave gesture when the reality of it is much harsher.

It seems to me that the narrative we've got of Zweig's life -- humanism that gets undermined by harsh reality and ultimately fails to suffice -- parallels what is happening on the larger cultural level. People were losing faith in humanism and in human possibility and progress on a massive scale.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Stefanie on Fri Apr 03, 2009 1:56 am

Dorothy, I think you are right, Zweig does romanticize suicide, but I think many people do that, including those who commit suicide. They don't think about how their actions are going to affect others, they don't imagine scenes like the one Grad experienced. I think people who commit suicide have difficulty seeing past their own suffering, certainly neither Christine nor Ferdinand ever stopped to wonder about their neighbors whose lives were as bad as their own.

As for humanism, I've seen lots of articles in the past month or two that declare it is dead. But I have also seen plenty of counter arguments which make me think it is still alive though not on a grand Enlightenment scale. I think the Industrial Revolution and the two Great Wars have left us all cynical. Perhaps the original conception of humanism was overly optimistic and needs to be tempered by reality. I think humanism might be like religion in a way, in order for it to work, you have to have faith. Very Happy

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The PO Girl

Post by dovegreyreader on Fri Apr 03, 2009 1:07 pm

I just wanted to say Hi and how good to find an online reading list like this and just wondering if it's Ok to join in?
I loved the PO Girl and it confirmed why I love the writing of Stefan Zweig who I only discovered when I started to look at the authors Hitler had banned.
The ending of this book felt like a rehearsal for Zweig's own suicide plans in a way and I wonder if it helped him decide?
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