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New Austerlitz Radio Dramatization

Fiction Factory Austerlitz

On Sunday December 16, 2012, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a new radio dramatization (or dramatisation, for those in the UK) of W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz.  The 90-minute broadcast will begin at 20:30 GMT.  Here are the details, according to the BBC website:

Duration:1 hour, 30 minutes. First broadcast:Sunday 16 December 2012
W G Sebald’s masterpiece novel about remembering the Holocaust, in a new dramatisation for radio by Michael Butt. The narrator meets a quiet stranger in the Antwerp station cafe and he begins to confide an unsettling story of vanished identity – which travels through 1930s Czechosolovakia, the Kindertransport of Jewish children to Britain and adoption in Wales.

Sebald came to prominence in the 1990s as an acclaimed German writer, living in Britain, whose novels tackled many aspects of Germany’s confrontation with its traumatic wartime past. He died in 2001 at the height of his critical appreciation.

Austerlitz ….. James Fleet
Narrator ….. Stephen Greif
Elias ….. David Sibley
Margaret ….. Poppy Miller
Evan ….. Michael Elwyn
Agata ….. Morven Christie
Maximilian ….. Timothy Watson
Marie ….. Amanda Drew
Vera ….. Deborah Findlay
Young Vera ….. Emma Powell
Young Austerlitz ….. Dyfan Dwyvor
Child Austerlitz ….. Kalum Guest

Directed by John Taylor
A Fiction Factory Production.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. James Cowan #

    Hello Terry,

    Just as Austerlitz’s meeting with the narrator in the East End is supposed to take place on the fictional date “Saturday March 19” [1997; actually a Wednesday], so your announcement of the BBC Austerlitz broadcast gives an equally fictional date, “Sunday December 16, 2013.” Very Sebaldian!

    Fortunately, the BBC announcement itself gives the correct date.

    Thanks for the notification. I’d love to hear the broadcast, but don’t know if it is available in the US.

    Keep up the good work!

    Jim Cowan, author of “W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and the Great Library: History, fiction, Memory,” Monatshefte, v.102, nos. 1 & 2 (2010)

    James L. Cowan Phone: 415-563-5089 1646 Grove Street Cell: 415-516-9625 San Francisco, CA 94117 email:

    December 13, 2012
    • Fixed! Thanks, James. It’s a good thing that I have several hundred editors and proof readers out there.



      December 13, 2012
  2. Damn! I’m away. Thank goodness for the BBC iPlayer!

    December 13, 2012
  3. Tomasz #

    Thank you for the notice.
    I listened to the entire broadcast. Of course, as every Sebaldian, I am absolutely for it, but as a literary critic and a philologue, I cannot help but notice certain ….. ehm…. ….. features of the text and the performance, which to my taste could have been done in a different, more effective way. The structure of the character of the narrator seems lacking the general and superior purpose. He reflects too little. The narrator’s questions expressed chiefly in the form of interrogative pronouns seem not only redundant, sometimes they irritate and perplex. And the soft, shattered and often effeminate voice of the main character Austerlitz. That character has been structured without his perceived-from-the-novel stronger and firmer personality of a man haunted and shattered by his past and the imagined past, but a man intelligent and refined enough to be decided, firmer and well-above-the-present. Well, in the play he is quite opposite of that. And the voice of the actor sound much younger than the novel’s / book’s character’s voice should have been. The actor sounds at the beginning of his early thirties, while Sebald’s character must have been approaching, or be, in his fifties.
    Having said that, these are elements which have not been raised as critique, this is just an observation. The raised points should not, must not deter anyone from listening to the play again, and, possibly, again.
    But again: that is all theatre, drama, and the author may do what he thinks appropriate or desirable.

    December 17, 2012
    • Tomasz. I take objection to your use of the word, “effeminate”; this has perjorative connations towards gay people and women; and towards the former “group” of people, Sebald had the most profound empathy. It would not have concerned him if Austerlitz was “effeminate”-sounding or not. Steve

      December 17, 2012
      • Tomasz #

        Steve, thank you for your remark.
        However, I am perplexed by your comment.
        I want to explain that I am not used to the new meanings of words imposed [on them] by the so-called political correctness.
        Each gender has its own natural character, which includes any alterations or modifications to that traditionally perceived character. Due to that, the actual meaning of peoples’ statements and expressions should be approached with good will but also with linguistic caution. In the international and multi-cultural environment of an intellectual discussion like this one, more trust is needed: meanings of peoples’ expressions voiced in a discussion should be approached with bona fide expectations. More effort should be executed to try and understand intended meaning. It is sad and disencouraging that anyone might suspect others of using the word ‘effeminate’ in ‘pejorative’ sense. I expect the author, W.G.Sebald, could, if he had wanted to, construct the book Austerlitz with, and around, a female principal character. He did not. When reading ‘Austerlitz’ in English, and in Polish, both texts being excellent translations, I came to understand Austerlitz in a certain way, with no major differences between the two texts. When listening to the radio play, however, I detected a certain disparity between the character, mood and meaning of sentences as I knew those from the books on the one hand, and the intrinsic features of the actor’s play on the other. There were moments of acute disparity and incompatibility between the two which, to my taste, were excessive and disorienting. Sebald’s character, Austerlitz, was/is a strong man: psychologically strong, which does not mean he is insensitive or harsh. But the masculine phonostylistic ways of expressing sensitivity, especially in the older times, IMHO, distinctly differ from the feminine ways of the same. The use of word ‘effeminate’ was supposed to convey that idea, no more, no less.
        I live in the area of the Bloodlands, with and among people who not only remember the tragedies and colossal loss of lives since the beginning of 20th century and remember about those catastrophes every day, but continue to suffer hardships of life and tragedies, real and material, which simply and undisputedly are linked to, and result from, those ‘past’ tragedies. I also often meet people who come here from afar: they come to visit places, to give evidence. I know what they say, I know how they say what they say, I know how they look saying what they say. Living in such an environment, geographically and sociologically, you know, invariably makes people learn and adopt characteristic ways of grieving, and distinctive ways of expressing their feelings, which I did not find in some fragments of the radio play in question.

        December 18, 2012
      • Tomasz, thanks for your detailed comment; apologies for mis-spelling pejorative!”political correctness” is itself often used pejoratively in the UK(I can not speak for other countries!): where it was used in the 80s, particuarly, by a reactionary section of the press to describe any pro-active initiatives to help disadvantaged groups. i have looked up the dictionary definition of “effeminate”:1.”characterized by weakness and excessive refinement”; ok Austerlitz certainly isnt weak, i agree; but he IS refined(excessively or not is a matter of subjective interpretation); and it can also mean “lacking firmnesss or vigour”. i understand that you are trying to say- but i I think that we are BOTH, ultimately, coming from our own subjectivities, (which you have powerfully expressed, and which i fully respect). I am a gay man, so am coming from my OWN subjectivitiy of oppression. Sebald often deals with homosexual/bisexual characters, and their marginalisation by history; he does of course, also deal with other oppressed groups of people, which you mention.”Effeminate” is usually used,pejoratively, in the UK anyway, of a “camp” gay man who is perceived as having unmnaly , ie womanly qualities, inconsistant with his “male” identity. I myself prefer psychological androgyny, where it doesnt matter whether people’s qualities are perceived as “male ” or “female”; and i think Sebald himself transgresses these gender roles boundaries;you can be strong and, as you agree,sensitive: in fact Austerlitz is portrayed as both!In most societies,woman are , stereotypically , described as “sensitive” and men as “stong” and thus it is seen as “effeminate” for men, ie unmanly to express their “feminine” traits. So i think we have a specious binary here: between male and female so-called psychological traits. However, I think it would be very sad, if we experienced any signficant disagreement over this matter, because Sebald deals with MANY different kinds of marginalization and oppression;and we are all united, I am sure, in any rebuttals of prejudice and oppression. Speaking for myself, this is one of the major things that draws me to Sebald: his exquisite empathy with suffering and untold/marginalised histories; this is why, particuarly amongst homosexual readers, the word “effeminate ” as denoting “like a woman” would be a raw comment; as well as its connotation of weakness in women themselves!Phonolinguistically, i do not believe these “male”/”female” linguistic(useage) distinctions should exist, but you are right,in actuality they DO; but i do not think Sebald would, given the massive evidence of sensitive male characters, be at all interested in such distinctions; i would suggest “Dr. K” in “Vertigo” as an example in point. Anyway, I hope , at worst, we can agree to disagree; and join in our shared love for this greatest and most poignantly beautiful of writers:)Take care, Steve

        December 18, 2012
  4. Phil #

    “The actor sounds at the beginning of his early thirties, while Sebald’s character must have been approaching, or be, in his fifties”

    James Fleet is 58.

    December 18, 2012
  5. Steve, thank you for your comment. I found it interesting and inspiring. However, the time is my great constraint at this moment, I am writing only to express my gratitude for your last comment and for your opening new paths for my thoughts, writing and further discussions. I will write to you about / on those again if the continuation of this discussion is possible and desired. There is a number of issues that come to mind in the circumstance of such intellectual discussion, especially after reading you, and I would like to discuss and explore those. I only wonder whether such discussion could continue and whether it could / should continue here: others may be disinterested in, or bored by, the developments. Whatever happens, I am delighted by all that was written (whether I fully agree or otherwise) and I am grateful for that. And the last comment: I do not “agree to disagree”: I intend, amicably and respectfully, to continue my study and (re)search for better understanding of the world, the life, the man, the language, the time and the times. Thank you, and all, for assisting me in that search and in that study. Regards, Tomasz

    December 20, 2012
  6. Secald without the digression and the grainy pictures. A difficult challenge I felt.

    Had I not been on this site I would not have given any thoughts to issues of effeminacy or marginalisation. I had no problems with the casting either.

    I have not read the novel for some time, and could not remember the ending, so I went back to it, as far as the circus story with which the drama but not the book ends. That reinforced my view that those who wrote and produced it, despite the unpromising name “fiction Factory”, were faithful to the tone and spirit of the novel.

    Appropriate, to me at least, that the BBC scheduled this immediately after “British Romanticism and Napoleon”, indeed following a series of programmes commemorating Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. The road from Enlightenment to Holocaust was a central concern of Sebald’s.

    December 20, 2012
  7. Tomasz, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. When I clicked on your (highlighted) name, I got “Unsung Composers”!!!This is site of which i am no longer a member because of the homophobia there,around dealing with the subject of Siegfreid Wagner, Richard Wagner’s son.Not that that means everyone on that site is homophobic!Nor have i experienced any homophobia on this current(Terry’s) excellent site. Issues of gender identity and sexual orientation are only just about beginning to be explored in Sebald scholarship; only myself and Eric Santner(“On Creaturely Life”,2007)and Lisa Diedrich(essay in “Searching for Sebald”, ed Patt, 2007) and one academic writing in German(which i cannot read!)have, to my knowledge, published, in any detail at all, non-dismissively, on the subject of the decidely homosexual/bisexual or same-sex affects of some of the protagonists(Ambros and Cosmo, Roger Casement, Henry Selwyn, “Dr, K”) or even the sebaldian narrators themselves; and Diedrich explains AWAY, and thereby, ironically,( given Sebald’s moving concern for the dispossessed and marginalized), further marginalises,the nature of the relationships, by calling them queer or as bachelors, queer here largely used in its wider sense of “quirky” or “different/non-confomist”. i think this is problematic because the sebaldian narator(with its ever-so-complex ovelap with the authorial voice itself) quite often explicitly refers to these characters as homosexual in sexual orientaion, and the whole point of Cosmo and Adelwarth is that they are NOT seen , by society, as a couple, but as everything else possible! so, a DOUBLE marginalisation by some academics!Sebald is making the point that they ARE a couple and that society marginalises them. I Do , however, agree there ARE many queer, in its broad sense to which i have referred, moments in Sebald too.Here are my posts on the subject:;; and

    On the more general subject of the radio adaptation, i personally prefer to see these kinds of adaptations as re-envisionnings, which stand or fall alone to themselves: they are not usually meant to be faithful renditions of a text; or,if they are, we all have our OWN versions of texts we love and treasure; we all have our own, very special and individual relationship with Sebald, for instance. I declare a heavy interest here because “Austerlitz” is my favourite book ever(after “Le grand Meaulnes”, Alain-Fournier); so I am bound to have strong views of how it should be interpreted, especially around my own subjectivity!I am sure the adaptors had their OWN strong views and i respect what was obviously a sincere attempt at a re-envisionning, in a different art-form, of the text. I DO agree with Tomasz that the narrator’s interventions,( particuarly the repeated “why?”) became somewhat wearisome(though i noted that at the end they reverted to the same “Austerlitz said” of the convoluted narrative-within-a-narrative of the original book. But, overall, as a stand-alone piece of art in its own right, which empathised heavily with what Sebald was trying to do, i felt it largely worked , and it moved me to tears.
    Finally, i hope any possible discussions around homo/bisexuality, homosociality and gender identities(ie gender normativising roles) in relation to Sebald’s characters and his narratorial figures,on here are constructive, as i am sure they will be!:)

    December 20, 2012
  8. Sorry again, don’t know what happened on 3rd link; here it is:)

    December 20, 2012

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