THE SOCIETY OF THE CROSSED KEYS
Being a huge fan of film director Wes Anderson I could not wait to dig into this book which I’d heard was the inspiration for his great new movie The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The Society of Crossed Keys contains Anderson’s selections from the writings of the great Austrian author Stefan Zweig.
The book is split into four parts, including a discussion about Zweig’s life and work, extracts from his memoir, a chapter from his only novel and one of his best loved stories in full.
A Conversation with Wes Anderson
Here Anderson talks with Zweig’s biographer George Prochnik in a fascinating discussion where they introduce the author and examine the context in which his work was received at the time and survives today.
Anderson describes how he hadn’t heard of Zweig until six or seven years ago when he bought a copy of Beware of Pity by chance. He then discovered the rest of the Austrian’s work and says here that The Grand Budapest Hotel contains elements “stolen” from several of his stories.
“M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig.”
Prochnik could be describing Anderson’s own films, known for their luxurious colours and eccentric cast of characters, as well as Zweig’s writing when he says “even in the little sketches he gives, there’s something so visually charismatic in just the suggestion of what these places were. We somehow feel an aura of that luminous life…”
The World of Yesterday – selections from the memoirs of Stefan Zweig
These extracts make up a sizeable chunk of this book and rightly so as they are delightful to read. I am certainly keen to discover his full memoir now as I found this glimpse to be as the back cover described “an unrivalled evocation of bygone Europe.” A Europe before the First World War that I feel we do not know today.
Zweig describes the sense of security integral to his country, and the belief in progress over any religious or political factor. How people became stronger, healthier and more attractive thanks to sporting activities.
“We lived well, we lived with light hearts and mind at ease in old Vienna…”
Zweig offers beautiful, insightful windows into the lives of Austrian-Jews, the liberal optimism of the times, changes in attitudes towards sexuality and his early days as a writer.
“I felt to some extent that this ‘security’ complex weighed me down, made me more likely to be fascinated by those who almost recklessly squandered their lives, their time, their money…and perhaps readers may notice this preference of mine for intense, intemperate characters in my novels and novellas.”
Beware of Pity
This is an extract from Zweig’s only novel, a story of both honour and love. As with his memoir extracts I am definitely keen to read the whole story. The beautiful niece in the story and the cake shop scene is sure to be the inspiration for the confectioners in The Grand Budapest Hotel. This extract ends tantalizingly after an exquisite and sumptuous dinner dance in which the narrator ends by asking a girl, whom he does not know is “lame”, to dance. We are left tasting the heartbreak ahead.
Twenty four hours in the life of a woman
Set in Monte Carlo on the French Riviera, this is one of Zweig’s best loved short stories in full. A tale of passion, love, death and gambling. A very good read.
This is only a short book and one that serves as a very brief introduction to the world and work of Stefan Zweig. It also acts as an excellent accompanying read to Wes Anderson’s brilliant return to form film The Grand Budapest Hotel.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8/10
About Wes Anderson:
- American director and screenwriter
- Films include The Royal Tenembaums, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom
- He directed and wrote the screenplay The Grand Budapest Hotel based on the works of Stefan Zweig
About Stefan Zweig:
- Born in 1881 in Vienna to a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family
- Studied in Berlin and Vienna and became known as poet, translator and then a biographer
- He travelled widely between the wars and wrote a string of bestsellers
- After living in London, Bath and New York he eventually settled in Brazil where in 1942 he and his wife were found dead in an apparent suicide pact. He had posted the manuscript for The World Of Yesterday to his publisher the previous day.