Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was an Austrian writer who, at the height of his fame in the 1920s and 30s, was one of the most famous authors in the world. Zweig was born into a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family in Vienna, where he attended school and university before continuing his studies on Berlin. A devotee of Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, he had published his first book of poetry by the age of 19. After taking a pacifist stance during the First World War he travelled widely and became an international bestseller with a string of hugely popular novellas including Letter from an Unknown Woman, Amok and Fear. He also developed friendships with great writers, thinkers and artists of the day, including Romain Rolland, Rainer Maria Rilke, Arturo Toscanini and, perhaps most importantly, Sigmund Freud, whose philosophy had a great influence on Zweig’s work.
In 1934, with the rise of Nazism, he moved to London. There he began proceedings for the divorce of his first wife Frederika, whom he had left for his secretary Lotte Altmann, a young German-Jewish refugee. In London he also wrote his only novel – his most famous and arguably greatest work, Beware of Pity – before moving to Bath, where, with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he and Lotte took British citizenship. With the German occupation of France in 1940, Zweig, a committed pacifist and advocate of European integration, was devastated. “Europe is finished, our world destroyed,” he wrote. Zweig and Lotte married and left Europe for New York, before finally settling in Petrópolis, Brazil, where in 1942 the couple were found dead in an apparent double suicide.