Tutors: Dr Helena Duffy and Dr Avril Tynan

Echoing Theodor Adorno’s prohibitive dictum that deems poetry created in the aftermath of the Nazi genocide barbaric, Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel famously said that ‘[a] novel about Treblinka is not a novel, or else it is not about Treblinka’. And yet already during World War II and then ever since peace was restored, authors have been striving to express the inexpressible. Tracing the development of French Holocaust literature, this course will examine both canonical and less known texts that take the Jewish tragedy as their subject. We will study these writings in the wider context of the development of Holocaust literature in Europe and across the Atlantic, as well as in the light of France’s troubled and fluctuating relationship with its wartime past. As part of this contextualisation, we will be introducing Henry Rousso’s concepts of ‘résistancialisme’ and ‘le syndrome de Vichy’.

The first part of the course will be dedicated to the examination of writings by Elie Wiesel (Night, 1960), Charlotte Delbo (None of us will Return, 1965) and Jorge Semprún (Literature and Life, 1994) that offer first-hand experience of what David Rousset called in 1946 ‘l’univers concentrationnaire’. Starting with Robert Antelme’s claim immediately after the war that the Holocaust was ‘unimaginable’ even for those who had lived through it, we will discuss the different approaches adopted by these authors to communicate their experiences and will consider the ethical and representational challenges for both the author and the reader.

In the second part of the course, we will study a range of third-generation novels that use characteristically postmodern narrative tropes and devices to represent the horror of the Nazi genocide. These novels include The Search Warrant (1997) by the Nobel Prize Laureate, Patrick Modiano, The Messenger by Yannick Haenel (2009) and Brodeck by Philippe Claudel (2007). In discussing these texts, we will ponder the moral appropriateness and potential ethical ramifications of the use of narrative strategies associated with playfulness, irony, parody, pastiche and moral relativism, in a literature addressing the sensitive topic of the Holocaust.

This course will be a mixture of lectures and seminars.

20 students will be accepted in order of registration.


The course will be assessed by coursework only. Students are required EITHER to complete a learning reading diary for each part of the course OR to write two essays of 2,000 words worth 50% of the final mark each. Active participation in class will be taken into account as part of assessment.

Key readings (Part 1 of the course):

Elie Wiesel, La Nuit/Night (1960)

Charlotte Delbo, Aucun de nous ne reviendra/None of Us will Return (1965)

Jorge Semprun, L’Écriture ou la vie/Literature or Life (1994)

Key readings (Part 2 of the course):

Patrick Modiano, Dora Bruder/The Search Warrant (1997)

Philippe Claudel, Le Rapport de Brodeck/Brodeck (2007)

Yannick Haenel, Jan Karski/The Messenger by (2009)