This is a small but gripping work from Stefan Zweig, one of the greatest writers to have emerged from Austria, and an underrated one, mostly to those who are familiar to his oeuvre. Stefan Zweig, with his indomitable style, has written this small novella beautiful.
Roland, a handsome, vivacious university student who loathes anything related to arts, much to the consternation of his refined father who venerates literature. Due to his persistent nagging finally Roland yields and joins a course in English in the bustling city of Berlin.
As in the case of any provincial youth, Roland finds himself in the company of women and all the pleasure such a city has to offer. He feels liberated and born anew but soon everything comes to a halt as his father comes out of the blue to take a sneak peek at his son’s Berlin life. Caught red-handed, that too with a girl inside his room, Roland, with tears in his eyes understands that he has to go back and obey his father. His act of repentance takes him to a remote town, away from the cozy Berlin, and there he happens to meet a man, the man who, will, change his life forever.
This novella is all about Roland and his boyish admiration of this genius, a man who has devoted his entire life for the studying of classics and Roland starts reading a lot and strangely falls in love with this father figure. Professor, with many shades is an interesting character. He loves the boy and at the same time torments him and the boy finds his personality marvelous and brutal at the same time. He tries to understand him but often gets pushed away in the most brutal manner.
Roland helps him in one of his dream projects and soon realizes he will not be able to understand his personality in its completeness. Tortured and tormented he complains to the wife of his master and soon that becomes a shameful affair, plunging Roland in to the murky waters of guilt and shame.
The novella ends when he realizes that the Professor has an erotic side, that he always pushed his student away in order to hide that. Unable to conform to the norms of the society, this man, a homosexual, gets denigrated and brutalized by almost everyone until he meets the boy. Roland feels sympathy for him but his confusion makes him almost numb.
Years later, Roland, now a distinguished professor, opens up about this strange love which had once bloomed in his life even unknown to him. He never saw his professor again, and still remains as an enigma to him.
This must have been a revolutionary attempt, considering the era when it was first published. Stefan Zweig, one of the towering figures in the European literature, has written this novella in an aesthetically perfect way. Zweig was a genius and this novel again proves his virtuosity.