Visibility and Reciprocity in Stefan Zweig’s “Letter From an Unknown Woman” and Its Film Adaptation by Max Ophüls


Stefan Zweig’s story “Letter from an Unknown Woman” (1922) portrays a male writer who receives a mysterious letter from a dying woman. This story was first adapted into a film version by Max Ophüls in 1948. Though the identity of the woman is somehow “unknown” to the writer, she has been his admirer since her very young days. She even silently takes up the maternal obligation of raising their child alone. The letter is a proof of her invisible presence around him in all these years. This presentation explores how the unknown woman embodies the dichotomy of visible invisibility. Besides, the concept of reciprocity will also be discussed. I shall illustrate how Lisa Berndle and her mother as characters of possible reciprocity indicate the different possibilities of women, through which the patriarchal victimization of women’s desire is made apparent. In these two cultural products created at dissimilar backgrounds, the “unknown woman” has been given alternatives at various stages of her life, which mark how the life of a woman can be defined.

Author Information
Chi Sum Garfield Lau, The Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: KAMC2020
Stream: Literature

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon