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One helps only the pitier.

In feeling for someone, they make themselves feel better. The other sort, he says, "stand[s] by the sufferer, patiently suffering too, to the last of its strength and even beyond. It's a lesson we theatregoers, sobbing in the stalls, would do well to remember, and one Zweig drills into his readers.


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Lieutenant Hofmiller, the young cavalry officer at the centre of Beware of Pity , lets the wrong kind of pity run away with him. Each time he does, acting to alleviate his own inner guilt, he digs himself deeper and deeper.

Beware of Pity

Each delays the inevitable fall-out, and makes it far worse in the long run. Hofmiller's quandaries start with a faux pas.


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Invited to a society ball, he asks the host's daughter Edith Marie Burchard to dance, only to realise — mortified — that she's partly paralysed. To make up for his mistake, he befriends her, in part out of pity. His house visits stave off his guilt, his charity feels good and sowing false hope, first of a cure, then of a relationship, feels even better.

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Hofmiller's problem, his fatal flaw, is his inability to detach himself from his situation. Feelings dictate his actions and, every time, emotions get the better of him.


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Simon McBurney spins that into most total theatre. He floods the stage with feeling; flushes every moment with sights and sounds and sensations and signs and so pulls us this way and that. We see nothing objectively.

Beware of Pity, streamed live on the website of the Festival d'Aix

Everything's oversaturated; all tone and all too much to take in. It's confounding, overwhelming and, ultimately, manipulative. When Hofmiller sees Edith stand for the first time, for example, the stage picture splinters. She's helped to her feet and time slows to a still. Strings screech, glass shatters on a screen, and, in slow-mo, her limp becomes agonised and monstrous. The narration spools, "she stoops like a witch," and a ballerina bows and pirouettes in projection, beautiful and transfixing. Hofmiller's heart thumps over it all. He — and we - fall into "an abyss of feeling" and Edith's affliction seems the worst thing in the world.

Sydney Festival – Beware of Pity

Don't forget McBurney is a maestro at this sort of thing. Zweig's fictional masterpiece evokes the point at which Europe was pitched into chaos, beginning with a cavalry officer's faux-pas in a fusty drawing room, and concluding with the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand Zweig constructs a devastating account of what happens when pity is misconstrued as love and brilliantly relays the catastrophic effects of arousing unwanted passion.

In Zweig's fiction, someone in the story, in a way everyone, has a terrible secret. Secrets are integral to adventure stories [and] the experience of reading Zweig is not so much of entering the world of the story as of plunging inward and dreaming the story. Stefan Zweig's Brilliant Novel: Beware of Pity , his first venture in longer fiction, is original and powerful work He has written his first novel with an ease and expertness for which first novels are seldom notable: Beware of Pity reaffirms Zweig's great ability for story telling Beware of Pity is an original and often brilliant [novel].

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