Writing European Lives. Stefan Zweig as a Biographer of Verhaeren, Rolland and Erasmus


  • Marleen Rensen University of Amsterdam




The Jewish-Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) was a passionate biographer who wrote about the lives of many influential people in European literature and history. In some of these biographies the genre is consciously employed as a vehicle to express an idea of Europe and foster a sense of belonging to a common European culture. His life stories of Emile Verhaeren (1910), Romain Rolland (1921) and Erasmus (1934) illustrate particularly well how Zweig portrayed artists as emblematic Europeans. As a biographer, he mediated across cultures in order to highlight the transnational elements of their lives that link disparate cultures in Europe. As the practice of writing European lives affected Zweig’s sense of belonging to Europe, the portraits of Verhaeren, Rolland and Erasmus anticipated some of the central themes of his self-narration in Die Welt von Gestern. Erinnerungen eines Europäers (1942).

This article was submitted on 7 June 2014 and published on 10 June 2015.


Author Biography

Marleen Rensen, University of Amsterdam

Marleen Rensen is Assistant Professor of Modern European Literature at the European Studies Department of the University of Amsterdam. She wrote her PhD thesis on French intellectuals in the interwar period and published about various forms of intellectual engagement. Her most recent publications deal with the practice of writing European lives and look particularly at the context of Franco-German relations in the twentieth century.