Austerlitz | Study Guide

W. G. Sebald

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Austerlitz | Character Analysis

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Narrator

The narrator shares Austerlitz's interest in reading, writing, and architectural history. As a German he's haunted by his country's role in World War II (1939–45) and the legacy of the Nazis. He travels frequently throughout Europe. The narrator resembles author W.G. Sebald but is not meant to be entirely synonymous with the author. He develops a friendship with Austerlitz over 30 years and retells Austerlitz's story in the book.

Austerlitz

Austerlitz learns late in life that he was a Holocaust refugee sent from Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), to London as a small child. He spent most of his childhood and young adulthood in Wales where his adoptive parents named him Dafydd Elias. Austerlitz is thoughtful, introspective, and fascinated by history, science, and other topics. But he suffers from a persistent sense of unease, never feeling he belongs anywhere. When he grows older he suffers panic attacks and loss of short-term memory. He feels haunted by the past and frequently imagines the dead walking beside him. Austerlitz spends most of the novel telling the narrator about his search for his buried history. Though he eventually learns his parents' fates, Austerlitz's trauma remains.

Marie de Verneuil

Marie de Verneuil is practical, intelligent, and patient. She visits Austerlitz during one of his hospitalizations, bringing him books, which help him regain his memory. She takes him to the Marienbad spa, where she hopes he'll find peace. Though she tries to break Austerlitz out of his self-isolation, he's unable to truly connect with her.

Vera Ryšanová

Vera Ryšanová feels guilt over surviving the Holocaust when her close friend Agáta Austerlitzová died. She wants to keep Maximilian Aychenwald and Agáta's memory alive, and she holds on to as many of their belongings as possible. Austerlitz reconnects with Vera Ryšanová as an adult, and she tells him how his family faced the Nazi regime. She narrates several sections of the novel as she describes Austerlitz's family history to him.

Agáta Austerlitzová

Agáta Austerlitzová was optimistic and open-minded. A lover of French culture, she wanted her son to learn French as well as Czech. She enjoyed performances and nature and agonized when the Nazi regime restricted her liberties. Austerlitz later sees a picture he believes to be Agáta in a still from a Nazi propaganda film.

Maximilian Aychenwald

Less idealistic than his partner, Agáta Austerlitzová, Maximilian Aychenwald was wary of the growing Nazi threat during the 1930s. He observed a Nazi rally in Nuremberg, Germany, and feared the passion of the crowd. He escaped Prague for Paris in 1939, correctly predicting that the Nazis would conquer Czechoslovakia. Though Austerlitz initially hopes his father's escape to Paris helped him survive, he later learns Maximilian was sent to a French concentration camp.

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