Letters Between Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth

Stefan Zweig to Joseph Roth, March 31, 1936 (from London)

…You must get it out of your head, the idea that we’re somehow being rough with you, or hard on you. Don’t forget we’re living in a period of general doom, and we can count ourselves lucky if we get through it at all. Don’t go accusing publishers, don’t blame your friends, don’t even beat your own breast, but finally have the courage to admit that however great you are as a writer, in material terms you’re a poor little Jew, almost as poor as seven million others, and are going to have to live like nine tenths of the human beings in the world, on a small footing and with a tightened belt. For me that would be the only proof of your cleverness: don’t always “fight back,” stop going on about the injustice of it all, don’t compare your earnings to those of other writers who don’t have a tenth of your talent. Now is your chance to show what you call modesty….

Roth to Zweig, April 2, 1936 (from Amsterdam)

…You know you’ve no need to tell me of all people what it is to be a poor little Jew. I’ve been that since 1894, and with pride. A believing Eastern Jew from Radziwillow. I would drop it if I were you. I’ve been small and poor for 30 years. Heck, I am poor.

But nowhere is it written that a poor Jew may not try to earn a living. That’s the only advice I turned to you for. If you don’t know, then say so. I thought you might be able to put me the way of some film people, or something….

Roth to Zweig, July 10, 1937 (from Brussels)

…You blame God for your aging, instead of thanking Him for it. You don’t understand that people have gotten worse, because you were never willing to see them as good and bad and as human until Judgment Day, which you are so slow to believe in. How can I talk to you? Because you notice it getting darker, you stand there bewildered by the approach of night; and you think, furthermore, that it’s something personal to do with you. Even currency devaluations you take as a personal affront, because you had thought you could save yourself by living in the isles of the blest. Now, for the sake of money, you want to return to the Continent, and to its darkest part. (Mind you don’t stay there too long!) You are independent of publishers and advances. You can afford to write nothing at all for two years. You truly are a “freelance.” Who else can say that of himself?

[Romain] Rolland has disappointed you. My Lord! He always was a false prophet and in thrall to noble errors and idealistic self-deceptions. Just before the World War he idolized …

Stefan Zweig letters copyright © Williams Verlag AG, Zürich, 1976.

Joseph Roth Briefe copyright © 1970 by Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne, and Verlag Allert de Lange, Amsterdam.

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