W. G. Sebald and Joseph Conrad's 'Swiss Governess'
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionNotes and Queries. 2017, 64 (4), 674-677. 10.1093/notesj/gjx137
The fifth section of W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn opens with the author’s description of having fallen asleep while watching a documentary about Roger Casement on BBC television. On wakening, all that Sebald can recall, he reports, is the programme’s opening account of Casement’s meeting with Joseph Conrad in the Congo. Sebald then turns his attention to Conrad, starting with a description of the departure of the young Konrad Korzeniowski, as Conrad was then called, from a stay with his mother on her brother’s estate in 1863. She had been allowed to remain there for three months to recover her health (her tuberculosis was to kill her in 1865) before taking her son to rejoin her husband Apollo in exile. Sebald’s description of the scene includes a reference to ‘ungainly Mlle Durand from Switzerland, the governess who has devoted herself to Konrad’s education all summer with the utmost energy’ and who implores him as he departs with his mother: ‘N’oublie pas ton français, mon chéri!’.1 In Sebald’s original German text Mlle Durand is described as ‘das häßliche Schweizerfräulein Durand’.2