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Publisher's Summary

In the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a young cavalry officer is invited to a dance at the home of a rich landowner.

There - with a small act of attempted charity - he commits a simple faux pas. But from this seemingly insignificant blunder comes a tale of catastrophe arising from kindness and of honour poisoned by self-regard.

Beware of Pity has all the intensity and the formidable sense of torment and of character of the very best of Zweig's work. Definitive translation by the award-winning Anthea Bell.

©1976 Atrium Press, 2011 Anthea Bell (P)2017 Ukemi Productions Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Zweig’s fictional masterpiece." ( Guardian)

What listeners say about Beware of Pity

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One of my favorite authors

Along with Alexander Lernet-Holenia and Márai Sàndor, Stefan Zweig is a jewel in the literary crown of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Beware of Pity is a period piece, an all too brief glimpse at a world forever lost.

It is a story which may seem quaint in our time now that honor, manners, and human decency are thin on the ground, but still it fascinates.

Zweig is often dismissed by the superficial reader as “sentimental.” Yes, he can be. He was, after all, a Viennese very much of his time.

But such a reading is shallow and simplistic. To dismiss Zweig with a supercilious sniff is to miss not only a visit to his evocative fictional world, but to his deep understanding of character and conflict. I always enjoy returning to his fictional Wien, and to lose myself there once more.

This reading is simply extraordinary. With so many clueless narrators slaughtering foreign languages with the most grotesque pronunciation, Boulton’s performance is glorious, even musical, as befits the author himself. I enjoyed every minute.

I hope someone will bring us another of Zweig’s extraordinary novels, The Post Office Girl.

22 people found this helpful

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A great novel–psychologically penetrating

Although I knew of Stephen Zweig, I hadn't heard of this novel before coming across it on Audible. I highly recommend it. It's an interesting story excellently narrated. I find some of the emotional reactions of the characters rather exaggerated--melodramatic, in fact. And the climax involves some unrealistic or obviously stupid actions. For all that, I found the novel compelling, and psychologically insightful.

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Masterpiece that is also extremely enjoyable

If you could sum up Beware of Pity in three words, what would they be?

Extremely enjoyable masterpiece

Have you listened to any of Nicholas Boulton’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This is the first time I listened and his performance is excellent

Who was the most memorable character of Beware of Pity and why?

The doctor, because he gives off an amazing amount of philosophy, advice, background history, opinion and is a very colorful character in everyday life as well.

Any additional comments?

The reading of this book could not have done a better job, it was excellent. There are so many layers to this story and different references to pity. Besides pity to the girl Edit these is also pity elicited to the lieutenant. In addition, the father of Edit is in need of pity. There are substories within the story which are of high interest as well. The entire story is packed with meaning and submeaning. In addition the mood is set so well that the reader can feel the mood of that period in Vienna and the mindset of a soldier and the atmosphere of the times. Zweig is a master at conveying mood and bringing the reader into his world. The writing is very erudite and there is philosophy at every corner. On top of all that, the story comes off anything but dry and instead is immensely entertaining. This is a classic for all time.

5 people found this helpful

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Well paced psychological and probing

Our hero under takes a long and convoluted process of self analysis in this wonderful and suspenseful psychological novel

Zweig writes with the intensity of Edgar Allan Poe’s first person narration, and with the psychological complexity in dealing with obsessed characters that dust day of ski possesses. Dostoevsky!

4 people found this helpful

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Zweig’s perception of human nature is unparalleled

Zweig is my favorite writer and I am naturally biased to praise his writing. However, despite my preference for his style, his insight, his literary excellence, I am fully objective when I determine that this is, indeed, one of his best works.
The performance does justice to characters and the narrative. Such a deeply felt read. I am thankful that Zweig is read and shared so intimately.

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Terrific story!

Great classical story of unrequited love, this narrator was fantastic! Will look for more by him.

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Para disfrutar y pensar

Zweig siempre entrando en lo más profundo del mundo interior humano. Una excelente narración que permite sumergirse en la historia.

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Pick up a bee from kindness, and learn....


'Pick up a bee from kindness, and learn the limitations of kindness.'
Sufi Proverb

Upon finishing this, Stefan Zweig's only completed novel, after having already read his memoir, The World of Yesterday, I've found that this Austrian author was one of those singularly gifted observers of the human condition, that come along maybe only once a generation, able to regularly discern the profound in the mundane as if such a talent came like riding a bicycle.

Beware of Pity sated my love for an exploration of human emotions I've not yet encountered in a story but have experienced in the real world. First was pity, and the negative that can flow therefrom. Second is the feeling of having someone in love with you at a time in youth when you want nothing to do with her/him.

Though I'd of course encountered the emotion of pity in other novels, none had made it a central theme and covered it like this novel did.

As for the second--see Zweig's brilliant quote below--I look back with deep regret at how mean and callous I was to the girl, and think how I'd have handled it differently. I'd not seen this fleshed out in a story from the viewpoint of the *unloving beloved* before this one.

The surface moral of this novel is laid out by its title: pity, as an emotion, can result in disaster. The deeper message seems the old maxim, you cannot judge a book by its cover. Hofmiller may wear the medal of the Military Order of Maria Theresa--the highest military decoration Austria could offer, equivalent to the Victoria Cross in Great Britain and the U.S.'s Medal of Honor--but he is plagued by his knowledge that his badge of 'courage' actually came from a colossal act of cowardice.

The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's popularity seems to be making a bit of a comeback, with the new publication of a number of his novellas and his memoir The World of Yesterday in which his writing shines. According to a number of sources, when this novel was published in 1939, Zweig was likely the most popular author in the world, for his short stories, novellas and biographies of famous people.

This was, again, the only novel he completed. He wrote it, as a Jewish refugee from Nazi persecution, in the U.S. (where he arrived in 1935) and then England (1938). He and his wife moved to Brazil in 1942 and shortly thereafter committed suicide together.

The story is set in Austria, mostly as it was on the brink of World War I. The tale is told though through a framing narrator (presumably Zweig) who meets the famously decorated cavalry lieutenant Anton Hofmiller at a social function. The narrator asks about the lieutenant's decoration as a hero of WW I, the Military Order of Maria Theresa, which Hofmiller disdains.

To explain why, he must take the narrator (and readers) back to the time he was invited to the castle of an immensely wealthy Hungarian named Lajos Kekesfalva. There, he asked the old man's crippled daughter to dance. A spoiled girl in her late teens, she throws a fit. Feeling pity for the girl, Hofmiller makes trips to see the Kekesfalvas nearly every day for an extended period. He is a man who gets nearly everything wrong: his gaffe that ultimately leads to awful consequences, believing Kekesfalva was a nobleman, and thinking the girl's doctor was incompetent, and leading the girl to believe she and he were engaged to be married only to deny it later in the evening, fearful of what his peers may think of him.



From BEWARE OF PITY, on the 'Torment' of Being "Loved Against Your Will

'a worse torment, perhaps, than feeling love and desire...is to be loved against your will, when you cannot defend yourself against the passion thrust upon you. It is worse to see someone beside herself, burning with the flames of desire, and stand by powerless, unable to find the strength to snatch her from the fire.

If you are unhappily in love yourself, you may sometimes be able to tame your passion because you are the author of your own unhappiness, not just its creature. If a lover can't control his passion then at least his suffering is his own fault. But there is nothing someone who is loved and does not love in return can do about it since it is beyond his own power to determine the extent and limits of that love and no willpower of his own can keep someone else from loving him.'

3 people found this helpful

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Recommended by Jeffrey Archer

In Oxford Union Discussion someone asked Jeffrey Archer which author he really admired and he mentioned this one.

If it's good enough for Mr.Archer it is fantastic for me.

I must comment on the Narrator. He added the passion and drama to the story, so much, that I almost came close to tears at times.

truly remarkable piece of writing. I am glad I found it.

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  • c
  • 08-05-18

Excellent

Excellent story, involved me completely in the forgotten austro-hungarian empire, and Stephan Zweig's writing; especially his characterization and talent for setting, keeps your ears glued to your headphines. This is a great book about a world and a time that is gone with the wind.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tony
  • 04-16-21

Superbly writen and narrated.

I really enjoyed listening to this thought provoking book. It's superbly written and highlights both the highs and lows of human nature. The narration throughout was absolutely spot on. The pace, change of character and emphasis was exactly what was required for myself to fully appreciate this unusual and at times, unsettling story.

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  • St Andrews
  • 04-01-21

Beware of shame?

Is pity really the target of this fascinating story? This perspective may spring from the hero's narrative. Published in 1938, conformism and shame might also be fitting themes.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-10-18

Brilliant and Moving

A very powerful book - perhaps the most moving and captivating book I have ever read - Beware of Pity explores a complex moral dilemma. It simultaneously gives a glimpse into the lost world of Austria-Hungary and the torments of unrequited desire.

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  • Alma Crawford
  • 06-28-17

Brilliant tangle of class, disability, and sex.

Set in an idealized Hapsburg Austria, characters lack the emotional maturitu/dexterity to manage attraction, disappointment, disparity, or constraint leading to disaster. I read it as an allegory alongside "The World of Yesterday."