“The Invisible Collection” is a set of short stories, each one about someone with a great passion. This passion ranges across subjects, including art, children, women, their master and themself. It makes for an interesting and enjoyable set of stories, written very well as I have come to expect from Stefan Zweig. This collection shows to me his great creativity in the breadth of ideas and stories, although they all sad in different ways, with a couple including suicide, and I wonder how much this reflects his view on life too.
As in any collection, some stories are more enjoyable than others. My favourites are the title story, “The Invisible Collection”, about a blind man’s love for his artwork, and “Did he do it”, a tragic story about a dog and a family.
Below I summarise each of the short stories in this collection.
The first story is the “The Invisible Collection”, about a blind man’s collection of artwork and etchings. They have all been sold by his family as they had no other means of living, and replaced with blank paper. The man does not know they have been replaced, and takes great joy in showing his works to a visiting art dealer, to help re-awaken in him a joy in the art and not just the money involved in dealing. I enjoyed this story, although it’s sad to see the blind man’s ignorance and poverty, it is a lovely image of the blind man enjoying his art work, despite it not being there; and feels like how love for art should be.
“Twilight”. A French Lady who was in the most exalted circles of society is exiled from Paris. We follow her trying to recover her happiness in exile, but it is a sad story as she is very consumed with herself, and only gets happiness from using and controlling others. While I find this story less enjoyable, the way it is written inside her head, in such a good manner, means it’s hard to get the story out of your head once you finish it. I’ve found this before from several other of Zweig’s books, he has a great technique at this.
“The Miracles of Life” This is story is about an old painter who is commissioned to paint the pair of an existing portrait of the Madonna. He finds the original so moving that he finds it very difficult to work on its pair, until he finally finds the right model, in a young teenage Jewish girl, who has a lonely and unhappy life. They first both find happiness in the time they spend together, before she finds her greatest joy in the baby who she is to pose with. This baby becomes her consuming passion, both in real life and then in the painting of the baby.
“A Story Told In The Twilight” A boy goes to stay with relatives at a castle where there is a large family and number of visitors. One night a girl jumps on him when he is out in the garden, kisses him passionately and then disappears. This happens a few nights in a row and he tries to work out who it is, as he can not see her. He thinks he discovers who it is, and he then falls in love with her and idolises her in his imagination; while in daytime things go on as normal. Unfortunately he has made a mistake and it was a different girl; but he is now so caught up in his imaginary love with the first girl that he has no interest in the girl who actually stirred all these emotions.
“Wondrak” A woman, who lives in almost isolation because of her ugliness, has a son after being raped. She has a great love for her son, wanting to keep him away from the world and to herself. She tries to avoid even registering his birth, foreseeing that having once entered the paperwork, he will not be able to escape it. First school and then military service seek to take him away from her, and she does all she can to fight them and keep him at home with her. The story is incomplete, “here ends unfinished manuscript” being the end in my version, which leaves me with an unsatisfied feeling.
“Downfall of the heart” An old man who feels he has spent his whole life working to provide for his wife and daughter starts to resent their lifestyle and that they take him for granted. So he cuts them off in his heart as much as he can, ignoring them and carrying on his life without them insofar as he can, until his heart finally stops for good. This is the only story in this collection where it is not a passion that drives the main character, but almost the complete absence of any passion or interest in life.
“Leporella” A servant, who is very dull and focused on her work comes to love her new master, a baron, who despises his wife. After a happy period, as master and servant, while the wife is away, she is very unhappy at the wife’s return. Shortly after she kills her, making it appear a suicide, but he knows the truth. He is disgusted and horrified by this act and does all he can to avoid her; which she can not handle.
“Did he do it?” This is a tragic story about a terrible dog. His master loves him greatly, and the dog makes him almost his slave instead; until the master has a baby who he loves much more than the dog, and so the dog becomes terribly jealous. This story is very well thought out, with great imagination to create the character of the dog and get inside his mind. While being very sad, it is one of my favourite stories in this collection.
“Amok”. A German doctor goes to work with the locals in a Dutch colony. After a long period there he meets and becomes infatuated by European woman who wants an abortion, which is illegal at that time. But his infatuation makes him go “amok”, and he ruins his career, reputation and life for this woman, who has no interest in him. A tragic story, although well told.
“The Star above the Forest” This is the shortest story in the collection and I find it too brief to be satisfying. A waiter at a hotel falls in love with a guest. He takes especially good care of her but she doesn’t know of his feeling. She leaves the hotel as her stay comes to an end. He hadn’t foreseen this and kills himself in despair. She does not know of this but a feel of loss comes upon her at this moment.