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the spoiled invalid is desperate for his love. Set in the period leading up to the ...
on 12 February 2014
Zweig, Stephan. Beware of Pity.
This story of the misplaced passion of an Austrian cavalry officer for a crippled heiress is multi-layered. Toni, the officer, is an honest and charitable fellow, but he is unprepared for marriage, whereas Edith, the spoiled invalid is desperate for his love. Set in the period leading up to the First World War the book’s theme of monetary deviance is repeated: Toni’s potential father-in-law the Jew Kanitz married Annette Beata Maria Dietzenhof after cheating her of her fortune. Likewise Toni is being schooled by Kanitz for marrying Edith, a tempestuous cripple who accepts his gifts as love tokens.
Sudden changes from rapture to guilt are repeated in both stories. Edith, the protected invalid, can be ‘wonderfully natural in her manner, as only children are who have never known the harsh, hostile side of life,’ but if she doesn’t get her way there’s hell to pay. Toni is a softie, compelled to visit Edith out of duty, but also because the luxury of the castle provides welcome relief from the barracks. He takes counsel from Edith’s physician Dr Condor, who warns him to beware of pity and that ‘women always react astonishingly well to feelings and illusions.’ The situation becomes fraught when Edith threatens suicide.
The story has tension and is imbued with an old-fashioned morality, but the account of Kanitz’s acquisition of the estate of Kekesfalda is long, boringly recounted by Condor in its precise detail and its unlikely recalled dialogues.