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Author Theodor Fontane
Original title Unwiederbringlich
Translator Douglas Parmée (1963 and 2011)
Country Germany
Language German
Genre Novel
Publisher New York Review of Books
Publication date
Published in English
February 2011
Media type Print Paperback
ISBN 978-1-59017-374-9

Irretrievable (German: Unwiederbringlich, 1892, also known as Beyond Recall and No Way Back ) is one of realist Theodor Fontane's mature German novels. As with some other of Fontane's novels (including Effi Briest), its heroine is believed to be based roughly on a real person whose demise Fontane heard about, and it deals delicately with near taboo (at the time of writing) topics including adultery and suicide.

The novel has been translated twice into English. The first by Douglas Parmée in 1963 as Beyond Recall, it was re-published in 2011 by New York Review of Books as Irretrievable. In 2010 a new English translation, No Way Back, was published by Angel Classics (London). There also is a German made-for-TV movie (1968, director Falk Harnack).

As for translating this haunting novel into English, even deciding on a translation for the title presents many choices in English (irrecoverable, unrecoverable, irretrievable, unrepeatable, beyond recall, past retrieval, beyond retrieval and irreparable, just to name a few). The subtle word-plays and linguistic motifs which add to the power of its German text are challenging to render into English.

Plot introduction[edit]

The novel takes place in the years 1859-1861 in Holstein, five years before the German-Danish War, at a time when Holstein was governed by Denmark.

Plot summary[edit]

Count Helmuth Holk lives with his countess Christine and their two children in a lonely valley. Christine was raised by nuns and is serious and pious, whereas Holk is by nature fun-loving. When Holk is called away to the Copenhagen court of the Danish princess, he becomes fascinated by a young companion of the princess, Ebba von Rosenberg, who flirts violently with him.

By contrast, his marriage with Christine begins to seem unbearably dull, and he rashly seeks a divorce from his wife before realizing that Ebba's attentions were not serious.

A long separation of Holk and Christine ensues, and only after years and great efforts by friends is a reconciliation between husband and wife engineered. Although on the surface all seems well, Christine is haunted by the previous rejection and drowns herself in the sea.


  • Beyond Recall, translated by Douglas Parmée, published 1963.
  • No Way Back, translated by Hugh Rorrison and Helen Chambers: Angel Classics, London. Published September 2010. ISBN 978-0-946162-76-5
  • Verlag Wilhelm Hertz, Berlin 1892; previously published in Deutsche Rundschau Nr.66/67, January June 1891; many subsequent editions, for example: Aufbau, September 1996, ISBN 3-7466-5283-9.
  • Audio book: read by Gert Westphal, 8 CDs, Deutsche Grammophon, ISBN 3-8291-1357-9.
  • Radio play: with Paul Edwin Roth, Rosemarie Gerstenberg, Christine Schoenfelder, Martin Hirthe and Edith Heerdegen, treatment: Palma, direction: Ulrich Lauterbach, Hessische Rundfunk 1957.
  • TV-film: with Lothar Blumhagen, Hans Timmermann, Alexander Kerst, Tilo von Berlepsch, Walter Buschhoff, Karin Hübner, Lil Dagover and Käthe Braun, book: Max Gundermann and Falk Harnack, direction: Falk Harnack, Berliner-Union-Film, Federal Republic of Germany 1968.

External links[edit]

see also irretrievable breakdown of marriages