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Reading and Collecting W.G. Sebald

Shortly after Susan Sontag began writing about W. G. Sebald, I read The Emigrants and subsequently each of Sebald’s works as they appeared in English. I have often found myself drawn to non-American literature, but no one that I had read previously seemed to affect me the way Sebald’s writing did. Perhaps it was the sense of melancholy that subtly pervades everything he wrote that reverberated at my core. As someone who has always collected books, I at first became fascinated by the challenge of building a truly international collection that would include first editions of his books from the three different countries in which they appeared: his native Germany, his adopted England, and my home, America. As time went on, my collection has expanded to include all sorts of publications by and about Sebald.

My collection has also branched out into a somewhat unusual direction. Each of Sebald’s four works of fiction have paradoxically included photographs. Without rambling on at length in this post about the relationship between text and image in Sebald’s works, let me just say that I am fascinated by the complex way in which Sebald’s writing and uses of photographic imagery toy with the issues such as truth, history, and memory. The popularity of Sebald’s books seems to have led to a minor explosion in the use of photography in fictional works by other authors, including Umberto Eco, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Frederick Reuss (to name a few). It has also led me to explore the long but spotty history of photographs appearing within works of fiction in works by authors such as Ishmael Reed, Wright Morris, and the Surrealists – especially Andre Breton. Accordingly, I am building a collection of fiction that includes photographs as an integral part of the work of art, starting with Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte of 1892 all the way up to the latest example published this year.

I am using this site – Vertigo: Collecting Sebald – to continue my personal exploration of Sebald’s writings, to share information about Sebald’s books and related topics, and to learn and experiment with WordPress. Comments welcomed.

Terry Pitts

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hello Terry,
    I was researching the value of a Sebald book we have and found a description of it as having 6 fold-out photographs including the endpapers. This was on abebooks and selling for 1200.00. Last year there was one for 1000.00 and I didn’t note the bookseller so don’t know if this is the same or this is a common value.
    My question is this:
    I am now curious about our own issue inasmuch as it only has the endpaper photographs and none other. It is by Greno in German and a first edition of 1988 in excellent condition.
    Can you shed some light on this for us? I am wondering if there was an issue produced without extra embedded photographs other than the endpapers? There is no indication anything has been removed.

    Thank you,
    p.s. and thank you for your thoughtful posts that brought me to this interesting site which I may join and to which add my own ponderings…

    May 9, 2008
  2. Janice,There is a hyper-limited version of Nach de Natur from Greno, but it is bound in leather and in a slipcase (so I am told by someone who owns a copy). Otherwise, I am not aware of any other edition of Nach der Natur. As I examine my first edition, it does appear that the extra photographs (not counting the glued-in endpapers) are specially sewn in separately from the binding of the text pages. One possibility is that you have a copy with four pages (two sheets) missing at front and back – either by accident or by having been removed. Upon opening up my copy the front endpapers show a photograph shimmering beach and sky. (Is this what you have?) This is followed by a double-page marsh scene, followed by a double-page lake or river with mountains in the background. At the end, then, there are three more double-page photographs.

    I assume your copy is otherwise similar, being bound in forest green cloth?

    May 9, 2008
  3. Terry,
    Thank you for this detailed description. As I noted in my e-mail (before I managed to find your post here) ours does have 3 double-page photographs in the front, including the one with the endpapers, just as you describe. Thanks to your description above, I found the others at the end of the book; at first we only found what appeared to be the endpaper and the inside back cover. The photographs are so flat and flush to the boards and tucked under the dustjacket we didn’t realize there were more photographs, thinking there was only the one with the endpaper. It may sound odd and indeed it was. The last 3 show a stark barren landscape followed by a double page of waterfall over shale, with a roiling sea at the very end.
    Thank you for all your help here. I have never encountered such a mystery before, looking but not seeing what is there, and had you not described what ‘should’ be there we would not have found it. The book is so tight it really was hard to discern the extra pages. And given that my husband was for 39 years a book dealer, owner of Wilshire Books now closed, with a ‘favorite bookstore’ history and even he could not see these pages, it seems unbelievable!
    Now we know better how to price it competitively in comparison to others that are described in less pristine condition. It seemed we had one with missing pages and now know that is not so. Mystery solved.
    Thanks again,

    May 10, 2008

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