What is the course about?
W. G. Sebald’s late twentieth-century prose narratives (Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz)
exist at the borderline of the novel form. Their self-conscious hybridity, combining memoir, historical account,
travelogue and fiction, may be seen as pushing the boundaries of genre. But Sebald’s use of a narrator-figure with
some biographical correspondence to the author, who takes part in the narrative, enables an even greater crossing
of borders: those between past and present, memory and history, and current and previous generations. This one-
day course will explore Sebald’s achievement through the themes of memory and narrative voice. Sebald created
what he called a ‘periscopic’ narrative style in order to memorialise the lives of the lost and forgotten, the
traumatised and the victims of persecution. His ambiguous but always tender narrator listens and bears witness, but
also draws attention to many problems of memory, such as the authenticity of documentary evidence or testimony;
the affliction of amnesia and what happens when memories return; and the ethical risks of imagining the lives of
others. At the same time his persona is often a drily amusing figure akin to A.A. Milne’s ‘Eeyore’ in his unrelentingly
melancholic view of events, which as we will see are often not what ‘really’ happened to Sebald the author during
his wanderings and researches.
This is a live online course. For more information please see our guide to online learning.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
• Memory and Forgetting: amnesia/repression of traumatic or historical events. What happens when these memories
• Memory and Authenticity: Sebald made use of both photographs and oral testimony. But why did he make them
ambiguous and unreliable? (The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants)
• The Ethics of Memory: what happens when we ‘memorialise’ others through writing, especially when they are the
victims of persecution or otherwise mentally scarred? How do we avoid ‘wrongful trespass’? (The Emigrants,
• Sebald’s ‘Persona’: similar to the author but not the same. Who is he and why does he present himself in this way?
Why does he use such an odd, archaic style to tell his stories? (Vertigo)
• Sebald’s ‘Periscopic’ Narrative Voice: inspired by Thomas Bernhard, Sebald avoided omniscient narration, instead
telling the story at one or more removes (e.g., someone tells someone else who then tells him the story). What
effects does this create? (The Emigrants, Austerlitz).
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
Recognise and respond to extracts from the works of W.G. Sebald
• Analyse and discuss the work in an informed manner
• Identify ways in which Sebald’s prose narratives engage with multiple aspects of memory and narration.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
Anyone with an interest in the subject is welcome.
• You will need an enthusiasm for reading and discussing a range of texts in large and small groups.
• You should be interested in listening to, and learning from, the responses of other students to the work discussed.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The classes will be highly participatory and interactive, with a combination of pair and group work, close reading
exercises and class discussion. We will make use of mixed media including photographs and audio interviews along
with extracts from the texts themselves. While the tutor will provide expert guidance and knowledge, your own
responses and ideas will be to the fore.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Extracts from all four texts will be provided beforehand, but if you would like to read any of the books
in full, the editions I will be using are:
• Vertigo: Vintage, 2002. Trans. Michael Hulse. (First published in German as Schwindel. Gefühle )
• The Emigrants: Vintage, 2002. Trans. Michael Hulse. (Die Ausgerwanderten )
• The Rings of Saturn: Vintage, 2002. Trans. Michael Hulse. (Die Ringe des Saturn )
• Austerlitz: Penguin, 2002. Trans. Anthea Bell. (2001).
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
For other literature courses, please look under History, Culture and Writing/Literature at www.citylit.ac.uk.