‘Forgotten Dreams’ by Stefan Zweig: Short Story Analysis
‘Forgotten Dreams’ is a modernist short story penned by the Austrian writer, journalist, and biographer Stefan Zweig. Zweig committed suicide in 1942 with an overdose of barbiturates. He was born in Vienna and was considered one of the greatest writers in the world in the 1920s and ’30s. This short story is about an unnamed woman who lives in the lap of luxury. She is happy and contented with her good fortune of marrying an aristocrat Count who was also a famous financier. At the beach, her reading is disturbed by the arrival of an old lover from her youth. He and she were young lovers until he left for America. We are not exactly told why the couple broke up other than the fact that they did part ways, which left a lasting impression on both individuals.
The story is penned with detailed descriptions that melt in our mouths like icing on a cake, a characteristic of Stefan Zweig and his narrative and descriptive capabilities. The short story titled ‘Forgotten Dreams’ starts with opulence. The woman is sitting outside her picturesque villa on the beach reading a book in her dog’s company. By this introduction, we are led to believe that she is a happy and lucky woman. It is only later on as the story unfolds that we realize that her happiness was feigned. She dearly loved the old lover of her youth, but she enjoyed affluence, riches, and money. The story has a few dialogues written in such a formal and vibrant style that you feel that the conversations are artificial. People in the twentieth century did not speak formally like the two main characters in the story, and certainly not in today’s world. The dialogues, though unbelievably phrased, and the descriptions of the scenery and the feelings of the two main characters are beautiful, lucid, and drawn delicately like a Chinese painting of old.
The woman loved riches, and for this reason, she married the wealthy Count. She married him to gain his wealth. As a girl, she dreamed of living the kind of luxurious life she was now living, and she was ready to sacrifice anything for her dream to be fulfilled. She was even prepared to sacrifice the love of her youth. However, notice that in the beginning lines of this narrative, which is rich in imagery and is not symbolic, there is a mention that she was not wearing any rings or wedding band on her fingers. That line is very clearly placed in the story with the appropriate syntax. It is a possibility that she was distant from her husband, and all was not well between them. She certainly was not in love with him; maybe that is why she never wore her wedding band. She also mentions towards the end of the story indirectly to her old lover that she sacrificed her love and idealistic life for money. He does not retort because he is aware that he too had sacrificed his ideals of old to get along in the world.
The title of the story ‘Forgotten Dreams’ is apt. There are many forgotten dreams in this short story:
- The young lovers being together as a couple was a forgotten dream.
- The woman gaining a life full of love was a forgotten dream.
- The old lover of her youth and the loss of his idealism.
- Loss of the woman’s ideals and idealistic nature.
- The loss of the wedding band on the woman’s finger.
- The loss of two people who in this life would never meet each other ever again.
The story ends with the man from America leaving. He mentions that he will never be able to meet the woman in this life ever again. When she was getting married to the Count, he was in America at that time. He pitied her because he knew or had the confidence that she loved only him. He hoped, however, that she would find peace in her husband. He did not realize that the real reason she married the Count was that he was rich and could offer her a grand lifestyle because of his wealth. Towards the end of the story, we see separation for a time. There is a possibility of meeting again but not during the few tumultuous decades of the two world wars. But surely, since both were well off, there was a chance that they would meet one day again. And with this probability, we find ourselves at the end of this short story.
To speak about the encounter between the old lovers makes it essential to realize the power of Zweig’s narrative skills to describe their inner feelings and emotions. Both are reminded of their torrid affair, but it feels like a dream. They want to dream that dream all over because it was a happy dream to be together once again. Simultaneously they feel melancholic just looking at each other. They think of their separation at the same time. They think about their old love. There is a kind of emotional telepathic cord shared between them, which is enchantingly painted in words by Zweig. They seem to know each other very well.
There is a lot of opulent writing throughout the narrative. The language is rich, creamy, and flowing like silk fabric throughout the short story ‘Forgotten Dreams’. The descriptions are overpowering but otherwise realistic enough of a life of wealth. Towards the end of the story, the woman realizes that if she had married her old lover, he too would have been able to offer her a wealthy life. She had made a terrible mistake by marrying the wealthy Count. At the beginning of the story, the woman was serene and content. At the end of this story, she is flushed, reflective, and her peaceful demeanor is gone. She is sorely reminded of her fatal mistake, which she cannot undo, or risk separation or, worse, divorce from the world of wealth that the Count can provide her. There is a hint given as we read the narrative that probably she would separate from the Count soon, but she would not go back to her old lover. She had never considered ever being part of his life again. But she secretly wishes she could.
I enjoyed reviewing this short story titled ‘Forgotten Dreams’. It was tragic that Zweig took his life in such a terrible manner. I hope to read more of his works soon. I have them stacked in boxes in my office-cum-writing hut, where I write and read my days away in seclusion. To know more about my life dedicated to books, you can read my memoir on Amazon titled Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai. I am sure you will find many quality book recommendations which you can add to your collection.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check my blog insaneowl.com. If you wish to buy my books, you can check my websites fizapathanpublishing.us and fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan