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HRI Summer Term Workshop: 'The Holocaust in French Literature'

Posted on 28/06/2017
Helena Duffy and Dan Stone

Dr Helena Duffy and Professor Dan Stone

On 9 June 2017, the Holocaust Research Institute held its summer term workshop, which was dedicated to representations of the Holocaust in French fiction and chaired by Helena Duffy. There were three one-hour presentations, each followed by a 20-minute discussion. The first speaker was Manu Bragança of University College Dublin in Ireland. His presentation concerned the changing depictions of the occupation and the Shoah in French postwar literature and, more particularly, the portrayals of Adolf Hitler himself. Manu, whose research has been consistently focused on the memory of World War II in France, analysed the difficulties arising from featuring a historical character in a work of fiction as well as the specific problems related to representing a reviled figure such as Hitler. Our second paper was given by Alan Morris of University of Strathclyde, one of the leading specialists in the writing of Patrick Modiano. During the workshop, Alan spoke of the shadow of the Holocaust in the French novelist’s work, framing his analysis with Modiano’s biographical circumstances, and distinguishing two key phrases in his oeuvre: the occupation trilogy (1968-1972) and Dora Bruder (1997). He demonstrated the ‘parochial’ character of Modiano’s interest in the Shoah, as evidenced by the fact that most of his novels are set in Paris rather than in a more conventional locale: ghettos, trains, camps. The final speaker of the day was Helena Duffy of Royal Holloway, who is currently working on ethics of Holocaust representation in French postmodern literature. Her presentation focused on Soazig Aaron’s novel, Le Non de Klara (2002), and raised questions relating to the irreparable psychological damage inflicted on Holocaust survivors by their oppressors, and especially to the impact of persecution on Jewish motherhood and femininity. These concerns were then contextualised with postmodern theories, which helped Helena to reframe some of the criticism levelled at Aaron’s novel. The three papers will be hopefully published next year in the journal French Forum, as part of a special issue devoted to the figurations of the Holocaust in French novel, 1997-2017.

We would like to thank both our speakers and audience for a thought-provoking workshop, and the staff at 11 Bedford Square for hosting us.





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