Online access to works by Flaubert, Diderot, Chateaubriand and others
|W. G. Sebald|
At the time of his death in 2001 at the age of 57, the German writer W.G. Sebald was cited by many critics as a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was his book The Rings of Saturn, written in 1995 (translated into English in 1998), which went a long way to securing Sebald’s reputation as a writer pioneering a new kind of literary fiction. The book is exemplary of his strange and unique style: the hybridity of genres, the blurring of fact and fiction, the indistinct black and white photographs, and his meditation on the destructive nature of history, the human lives affected, and the restorative power of art.
The book is, on one level, a walking tour through the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, Sebald’s adopted home (he’d taught literature at the UEA there since 1970). The reader moves with the melancholic narrator from town to town, village to village, but in the process – through an astonishing network of associations, tangents, and apparent coincidences – one is led all over the world, into many different times, and many different lives. A ride on a miniature railway at Somerleyton Hall leads to 19th century China and the Taiping Rebellion; a chance meeting with a gardener to the bombing raids of the Second World War; a T.V. documentary on Roger Casement to Joseph Conrad, the Congo and colonial genocide; a browse through the Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room to a meditation on wartime statistics and the tragedies wrought by the two world wars. In and amongst these meandering connections recurring motifs of silk, obscuring mists, combustion and burning are woven throughout to create an intricately patterned whole.
Among the many lives of the past encountered is a myriad array of literary figures. Collected together in this post are the major (public domain) texts of which, and through which, Sebald speaks – accompanied by extracts in which the texts are mentioned. The list begins and ends with the great polymath Thomas Browne, an appropriate framing as the work of this 17th century Norfolk native has a presence which permeates the whole book. Indeed, in the way he effortlessly moves through different histories and voices, it is perhaps in Browne’s concept of the ‘Eternal Present’ which Sebald can be seen to operate, in this mysterious community of the living and the dead. [Read More]
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