Finished reading Stefan Zweig’s CONFUSION last night. It’s a title that never cropped up in those days when I tried to read every novel I could find on the subject of homosexuality, perhaps because the author himself was heterosexual, or maybe because it was written in German. Yet, it is surprising that a novella on the subject, from 1927, by one of the most popular and important authors of the day, simply didn’t figure, at least in my particular context.
Zweig has a particular style, one as distinct as a 40s melodrama and as easy to parody as the Queen Mother’s thank you letters. It’s easy to reject but very beautiful and powerful if one lets oneself be taken over by it.
In CONFUSION and old professor at the end of his career looks over his Fettschrift and notes that it covers even the most minor aspect of his bibliography but bears no trace of the most important person in his life. As a young man he happened upon a lecture on English Literature that so enraptured him that it changed his life. He fell in love with the lecturer’s mind, gave over his life to helping him put those thoughts on paper, and was vulnerable to the older man’s every word and gesture, seeking approval. The confusion arises because the older man is interested in more than the young man’s mind. This finally comes to a head, when after a series of events, the young man sleeps with the older man’s wife and is so ashamed he gets ready to leave. Before he leaves however, the older man gives him an explanation for all the mixed signals and what they signified.
Near the end Zweig offers a dramatic condensation of all the ways homosexuals were oppressed in the period: blackmail, police raids, furtive and dangerous assignations etc. There’s a class bias in those views of sailors and workmen, but it remains sympathetic and powerful. And the last line, where the once young man, now a distinguished and retired professor, looks happily over his career, his life, his wife and children but notes of the older man, ‘I have never loved anyone more,’ is to me incredible in a novel from 1927.
Many thanks to Dan Callahan for bringing it to my attention.