Pastoral Modes in the Poetry and Prose Fiction of WG Sebald

Lavis, Grahame J.. 2015. Pastoral Modes in the Poetry and Prose Fiction of WG Sebald. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In this thesis I extend the discussion of the works of W.G. Sebald beyond the more commonly discussed themes of melancholy, trauma, loss and memory. To this end I examine his long prose poem After Nature and his four books of prose fiction Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz to expose underlying pastoral modes and structural forms in these texts.

In After Nature I make the case for this poem to be read as an anti-pastoral text which runs true to the elegiac form but exhibits a subtext of pastoral and anti-pastoral tension. The first published work of prose fiction, Vertigo, I argue demonstrates the pastoral structural device, integral to pastoral form, of the double-plot and in so doing, extend William Empson’s original thesis. In The Emigrants, I examine the parallels between Heimat and Pastoral by exposing the characters’ difficult relationships with displacement both physically and psychologically and argue for an anti-Heimat mode expressed largely in anti-pastoral imagery. The Rings of Saturn demonstrates the impossibility of utopia by constantly deferring a potential pastoral both spatially and temporally during the narrator’s “pilgrimage” across the Suffolk countryside. And finally in Austerlitz, we have a coalescence of pastoral modes structured as a discourse of retreat and return which, I argue, qualifies this work as a truly pastoral novel. In the final chapter I discuss the four short pieces of prose fiction in Campo Santo, which, although too brief to exhibit a pastoral form, demonstrate pastoral tropes commensurate with those discussed in the previous works.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Pastoral, Sebald

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


31 July 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Aug 2015 13:53

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:33


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