Collecting W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz
In spite of his growing international acclaim, the German and true first edition of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz appears to have been released in a small first run before going into multiple printings.It is my impression that it is easier to find first printings of the German trade editions of Schwindel. Gefuhle (released in 1990 in a first printing of 10,000 copies), Die Ausgewanderten (published in 1992 in a run of 7,000), or Die Ringe des Saturn (released in 1995 in a first run of 10,000 copies). As soon as Austerlitz came out (Munich: Hanser Verlag, 2001) I bought a copy signed by Sebald from a German dealer and when it arrived I was surprised to find that it was already a second printing.Hanser identifies the printing states on the copyright page using the simple code that many American and British publishers use. The code on the first print run would read 1 2 3 4 5, with the smallest number being dropped for every subsequent printing.The Hanser edition is bound in a green (almost gray) cloth with a silver-stamped red leather sticker on the spine and the book comes with a red cloth page marker.
The mysterious cover photograph has almost taken on a life of its own. The photograph of a young fair-haired Aryan boy in an all-white costume and holding a white tri-cornered hat was used on the first editions of Germany, Britain, and the United States shows. It’s an image that seems to me less connected to the character Austerlitz himself and more to Germany’s pre-World War II nostalgia for a glorious past.(Could that actually be the young Sebald or is it just one of his flea market photograph finds?)
The first trade edition in Great Britain (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2001) was bound in maroon cloth with a gold-stamped spine.My copy is signed by Sebald on the title page.I have seen one dealer claim that there are different states to the dust jacket, with the earliest state having the price on the rear flap rather than the front flap, but I cannot confirm this.
The British trade edition was preceded by two versions of the “Uncorrected Proof Copy.”One version served the usual purposes of providing advance reading and review copies.The proof is a compact, expense-saving octavo eight inches high and 357 pages long, in comparison with the more substantial trade version that Hamish Hamilton put out, which measures nine inches high and is 416 pages long and 50% thicker. A version of the “Uncorrected Proof Copy” was turned into a limited edition that is now one of the more expensive items for a Sebald collector. There were 100 numbered copies of this special edition, each signed by Sebald.I don’t own one of the limited editions, so I cannot provide a comparison with the ordinary “Uncorrected Proof Copy.”
Random House put out the American edition of Austerlitz in the fall of 2001, bound in sepia brown paper boards with a silver-stamped black paper spine.Unlike the German and British editions, which each run around 415 pages, the larger page format of the American edition allows the book to check in at 298 pages.One of the small, easy to overlook treasures of the Random House first edition is the back cover blurb by poet W.S. Merwin (which was apparently too poetic to be retained when the book went into paperback). Merwin writes:
With untraceable swiftness and assurance, W.G. Sebald’s writing conjures from the details and sequences of daily life, and their circumstances and encounters, from apparent chance and its unsounded calculus, the dimension of dream and a sense of the depth of time that makes his books, one by one, indispensable. He evokes at once the minutiae and the vastness of individual existence, the inconsolable sorrow of history and the scintillating beauty of the moment and its ground of memory. Each book seems to be something that was purely impossible, and each (upon every re-reading) is unique and astonishing.
Now that’s blurb writing.
Random House issued a paperback “Advance Reader’s Edition” that looks practically identical with the first edition.
In 2005, as part of the celebrations of its 70th anniversary, Penguin (which owns Sebald’s British imprint Hamish Hamilton) issued excerpts from 70 titles spanning its publishing history.Austerlitz was chosen to represent the year 2001 and so a 58-page excerpt from Austerlitz was published in a slim paperback under the title Young Austerlitz.The excerpt covers pages 44 to 96 in the American edition, in which Austerlitz describes part of his childhood in Wales.
In 2011, Hanser marked the tenth anniversaries of Sebald’s death and the publication of Austerlitz with a new paperback edition, to which was added an introductory essay by James Wood.