Poetry News

Amazing Public Domain Texts Found in W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn

By Harriet Staff


Catch some good decreation over at The Public Domain Review, where they've elaborated upon the texts found in W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn:

Among the many lives of the past encountered is a myriad array of literary figures. Collected together in this post are the major (public domain) texts of which, and through which, Sebald speaks – accompanied by extracts in which the texts are mentioned. The list begins and ends with the great polymath Thomas Browne, an appropriate framing as the work of this 17th century Norfolk native has a presence which permeates the whole book. Indeed, in the way he effortlessly moves through different histories and voices, it is perhaps in Browne’s concept of the ‘Eternal Present’ which Sebald can be seen to operate, in this mysterious community of the living and the dead.

The works are then "shown roughly in order of their appearance in the book." Included there are the aforementioned Browne (Hydrotophia or Urne Buriall and Garden of Cyrus); Flaubert's Madame Bovary...

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)

Gustave Flaubert was for her by far the finest of writers, and on many occasions she quoted long passages from the thousands of pages of his correspondence, never failing to astound me. Janine had taken an intense personal interest in the scruples which dogged Flaubert’s writing, that fear of the false which, she said, sometimes kept him confined to his couch for weeks or months on end in the dread that he would never be able to write another word without compromising himself in the most grievous of ways. Moreover, Janine said, he was convinced that everything he had written hitherto consisted solely in a string of the most abysmal errors and lies, the consequences of which were immeasurable. Janine maintained that the source of Flaubert’s scruples was to be found in the relentless spread of stupidity which he had observed everywhere, and which he believed had already invaded his own head. It was (so supposedly once he said) as if one was sinking into sand. This was probably the reason, she said, that sand possessed such significance in all of Flaubert’s works. Sand conquered all. Time and again, said Janine, vast dust clouds drifted through Flaubert’s dreams by day and by night, raised over the arid plains of the African continent and moving north across the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula till sooner or later they settled like ash from a fire on the Tuileries gardens, a suburb of Rouen or a country town in Normandy, penetrating into the tiniest crevices. In a grain of sand in the hem of Emma Bovary’s winter gown, said Janine, Flaubert saw the whole of the Sahara. For him, every speck of dust weighed as heavy as the Atlas mountains. – (pg.8).

...Brehm's Life of Animals; Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in English (1859); Denis Diderot's Voyage en Holland; Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe, by François-René de Chateaubriand; By the North Sea, by Algernon Charles Swinburne; and Simplicius Simplicissimus, by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1669). From the latter (a page from which is also feat. at the top of this post):

Recently I realized that the imaginary beings listed alphabetically in [Borges' Libro de los seres imaginarios] include the creature Baldanders, whom Simplicius Simplicissimus encounters in the sixth book of Grimmelshausen’s narrative. There, Baldanders is first seen as a stone sculpture lying in a forest, resembling a Germanic hero of old and wearing a Roman soldier’s tunic with a big Swabian bib. Baldanders claims to have come from Paradise, to have always been in Simplicius’s company, unbeknownst to him, and to be unable to quit his side until Simplicius shall have reverted to the clay he is made of. Then, before the very eyes of Simplicius, Baldanders changes into a scribe… and then into a mighty oak, a sow, a sausage, a piece of excrement, a field of clover, a white flower, a mulberry tree, and a silk carpet. – (pg.23)

Read them all here. Thanks to the Public Domain Review!

Originally Published: December 10th, 2013