The Post-Office Girl

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Grad on Fri Apr 03, 2009 8:52 am

Hi dovegreyreader. I think you are precisely right. The suicide plot betweent the characters certainly reflects the end of Zweig's and his wife's lives. I agree with you about this author, and wonder why he is not more universally known - like Dickens. Scary that Hitler very nearly got his way.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by dsimpson on Fri Apr 03, 2009 9:46 am

Dorothy--I'm not quite halfway through Beware of Pity. According to NYRB it is the only novel he published in his lifetime. It has some similarities to The Post-Office Girl, but the story is very different. Not so bleak perhaps, but it has the same eloquent writing and same insight into the character's minds, and idealism is obviously a thread that runs through his books--and what can happen to these lofty ideals when confronted with difficult situations. Beware of Pity is also set in a small village in the Austrian Empire, but it is set before WWI. The story concerns a cavalry officer who is invited to a party thrown by the local wealthy landowner. It's all very posh and in his excitement to be part of such lavish entertainments he asks the daughter to dance, only to discover she's crippled and can't even stand. This is a horrible gaff--imagine this young man who's a gentleman and an officer who feels completely horrible about the situation. In trying to make up for his 'bad behavior', he tries to help her but his help is construed as more than what it is--hence--beware of pity, I suppose. The story is told after the fact, when Hofmiller's life has been ruined. It's an interesting premise. After reading the discussions here about humanism it's throwing some interesting light on this book. I'm not exactly sure when he wrote this, but it had to be before the Post-Office Girl. The novel ends at the beginning of the war from what I understand.

By the way--I'm glad that Grad and now Dovegreyreader have joined us. It's nice to have more reader's take part in our dicussions. I always get so much more out of a book reading different perspectives!

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Litlove on Fri Apr 03, 2009 3:47 pm

What a good discussion on this book! Wow. On the humanist question, and in particular, Grad's query as to whether humanism is a worthwhile philosophy if it doesn't stand up to all extremes of human experience. It may help to understand the big sea change that philosophy underwent in the period 1920-1950. Up until this point, philosophy was the study of knowledge - it attempted to figure out what human beings could know. It was only after the wars that philosophy switched focus somewhat and became the study of what it was to live in the world, of what it felt like to be human. So humanism relied for its optimism on the belief that knowledge would be the key to ideal living. And of course by the end of the twentieth century we are much more clued up that it is not the case. Committing suicide wouldn't be seen by someone like Zweig as a rebellion or a refutation of the doctrine; just a statement of having reached the end of the road and being personally too broken in spirit to continue.

Humanism is also an idealistic philosophy, and a romantic one. Both idealism and romanticism have close links to suicide in literature over the centuries, probably because both have a certain inflexibility. Neither can cope with too much reality, by definition.

Finally, there's the literary angle. Theodore Adorno, a German philosopher and general all round literary type, declared famously that 'there could be no more poetry after Auschwitz.' Now, this is the kind of statement that keeps academics warm in the winter, discussing all its implications. But I think it's hard for us, living as we do, when we do, to really imagine the impact of coming to a full realisation of the Holocaust. As a Jew, Zweig had a better idea than most of what was happening, although he would not have been aware of it all. But the recognition that man could do that to man was beyond horrific, and especially for people who believed that humankind was slowly but steadily advancing towards a state of perfection. For many artists, it killed their creative spirit, and this was something that many found difficult to live with, to say the least.

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by iliana on Fri Apr 03, 2009 4:07 pm

Dovegreyreader welcome to the group!

Danielle that's great that you are reading another of his books and so soon after P.O. I often think I'll do that with certain writers to see how their writing has changed or not but well I haven't quite followed through on that. I'd really like to read The Chess Story (or Royal Game). My husband was telling me he remembered having to write a paper on that story in school but I just realized that is his story that was writtten right before his suicide.

Another thing I thought about in the second half of the book after Ferdinand meets Christine's brother-in-law is that there is no mention of them getting together again. I wonder if after what Ferdinand had gone through that it would just be so difficult for him to reconnect with his friends. I think there was even one mention of Ferdinand saying he didn't blame his friend but I think some part of him would have to wonder why not him and me instead? And, too would Christine's brother-in-law even want to meet him again. Would he feel a bit guilty that he survived and went on to do well enough yet this other guy didn't?

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Re: The Post-Office Girl

Post by Stefanie on Fri Apr 03, 2009 5:10 pm

I think Ferdnand knew that even if he wanted to he couldn't go back to Christine's brother-in-law's house because Christine's sister didn't like him. But I don't think Ferdinand wanted to meet him again because there seemed too much of a gulf between them, a difference in world view. I think you are right Iliana that Ferdinand no doubt thought often about why him and not me.

Welcome to the group Dovegreyreader!

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