Guys, guys, I’m really liking Zweig. Beware of Pity was no fluke! This novella is about a young man who goes and lives in the house of his professor, who alternatively inspires him and disdains him. And the young man can’t really figure out what’s up with him…and, well, I’m just gonna spoil it for you….
The professor is a homosexual.
Longtimes readers of this blog might remember that I am very interested in homosexual subtext in novels, and with this novel we start to see the beginning of the end for subtext. Because for most of the novel, it has the form of a traditional, subtext-heavy work. For instance, I recently read Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, where the narrator was a similar tormented genius fellow who had some kind of mysterious problem with society.
But then, bam, in the last ten pages, the professor is all like, “I am in love with you.” And he describes how for his whole life he’s been having sex with guys in back alleys and at little clubs and under bridges and it’s always been awful and sordid, and he’s always longed to experience a love that was pure and fine. And it doesn’t help that his profession continually puts him into contact with young men who are handsome and intelligent and completely under his sway. And he has to continually hold himself back from them. It’s a really interesting portrayal. First of all, because it’s not a portrait of unfulfilled desire–this guy actually does have sex with men. Secondly, because it’s explicit–there is no doubt about what he’s talking about. And thirdly, because it has a mostly modern viewpoint. This is not a guy who’s destroyed by perverted desire; this is a guy who’s destroyed by an inability to fulfill that desire in a free and open manner.