Sebald's Bachelors
Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life

Helen Finch

Germanic Literatures 2


3 June 2013  •  152pp

ISBN: 978-1-907975-90-5 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95

ISBN: 978-1-351191-55-5 (Taylor & Francis ebook)


Why do queer bachelors and homosexual desire haunt the works of the German writer W. G. Sebald (1944-2001)? In a series of readings of Sebald's major texts, from 'After Nature' to 'Austerlitz', Helen Finch's pioneering study shows that alternative masculinities subvert catastrophe in Sebald’s works. From the schizophrenic poet Ernst Herbeck to the alluring shade of Kafka in Venice, the figure of the bachelor offers a form of resistance to the destructive course of history throughout Sebald's critical and literary writing. Sebald's poetics of homosexual desire trace a ‘line of flight’ away from the patriarchal and repressive order of German society, which, in Sebald's view, led to the disasters of Nazism. This study shows that the potential for subversion personified by Sebald's solitary males is essential for understanding his work, while also demonstrating the contribution that Sebald made to the German tradition of queer writing.

Helen Finch is Academic Fellow in German at the University of Leeds.


  • ‘An ambitious, thin book that contains a dense, closely argued 'queer reading of Sebald’s work'. The result is one of the most important books on Sebald to date. I am sure that there are a number of Sebald readers, casual and otherwise, who will look askance at a queer reading of his work, but, as Finch demonstrates, the clues – both obvious and coded – are there in plain sight.’ — Terry Pitts, Vertigo online
  • ‘Brillant ist das Buch von Finch überall da, wo es - dem Versprechen des Untertitels getreu - den Themen 'Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life' bei Sebald nachgeht. Sie identifiziert das Werk durchgehende Motive oder zeigt höchst überzeugend, wie queerness und Erzählform bei 'Schwindel. Gefühle' zusammenhängen.’ — Uwe Schutte, Skug 97.1-3, 2014, 63-64
  • ‘Helen Finch's genuinely ground-breaking study of the work of W. G. Sebald explores the hitherto under-researched dimension of queer affinities and non-conformist lives in both the fictional and, crucially, the critical work of the now canonical writer... This is an important addition to the critical material and will challenge any interested Sebald scholar.’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 50.4, 2014, 505-06
  • ‘Finch’s study illuminates the underexplored dimension of Sebald’s oeuvre, sexuality in general and queerness in particular, making an important contribution to Sebald scholarship.’ — Lynn L. Wolff, Modern Language Review 111.1, January 2016, 292-94 (full text online)
  • ‘Despite my reservations, there is much to admire here: finally, the queer dimension of the Sebaldian is comprehensively explored; the book serves as a report on the condition of Sebald scholarship; and in its own way it is consistently argued and tightly phrased. Sebald’s Bachelors is undoubtedly a provocative springboard for students and scholars engaging with Sebald’s oeuvre. But the project of queer Sebald remains radically open to further critical enquiry.’ — Christopher Madden, Textual Practice 29.2, 2015, 396-400
  • ‘Finch’s original and compelling reading of the bachelor trope is a particularly progressive addition, not only to existing scholarship on Sebald’s writing, but also to queer literary theory more broadly... This significant new perspective demonstrates not only how queer figures haunt the works of Sebald, but also how his unconforming bachelors continue to haunt the German queer literary tradition.’ — Hannah O’Connor, Assuming Gender 4.1, 2014, 81-84
  • ‘An early review of W.G. Sebald’s first fictional work published in English, The Emigrants (1996), contained the observation that his narrators and his other significant characters are 'always male'... Yet until Helen Finch’s study of Bachelors in Sebald, there has been no satisfactory or truly systematic study of male characters and homoerotic undercurrents in Sebald.’ — Mark R. McCulloh, Monatshefte 108.1, 2016, 150-52

Bibliography entry:

Finch, Helen, Sebald's Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life, Germanic Literatures, 2 (Legenda, 2013)

First footnote reference: 35 Helen Finch, Sebald's Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life, Germanic Literatures, 2 (Legenda, 2013), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Finch, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Finch, Helen. 2013. Sebald's Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life, Germanic Literatures, 2 (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Finch 2013: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Finch 2013: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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