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AuthorTheodor Fontane
Original titleUnwiederbringlich
TranslatorDouglas Parmée (1963 and 2011)
PublisherNew York Review of Books
Publication date
Published in English
February 2011
Media typePrint Paperback

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.


External links[edit]