Centre for Modern European Literature

Lectures and seminars

The Centre's lecture and research seminar series provide a forum in which colleagues from the University of Kent and from other universities in the UK and abroad can present aspects of their current research in the field of modern European literature. The Centre's 2015-16 themed research seminar series, 'Authorship and the Profane in German-Language Literature', is convened by Dr Deborah Holmes and Dr Heide Kunzelmann (Department of Modern Languages). Professor Dirk Van Hulle will take up a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship for the Spring Term 2016. (Please contact Professor Shane Weller for further information on Professor Van Hulle's visit and the research activities that will be led by Professor Van Hulle.) The Postgraduate Research Seminar series is convened by Melanie Dilly (German and Comparative Literature PhD student). All are most welcome to attend.

'Authorship and the Profane in German-Language Literature'

The boundaries of the profane in a particular society or language community are culturally and historically determined; where blasphemy laws no longer exist or are no longer enforced, public opinion, the media and special interest groups continue to police these borders. Profanity is of especial interest to the literary scholar as it is almost invariably linked to language use, to choices of words and images that are considered to violate or offend against others’ beliefs or traditions. Literary innovation has always been susceptible to accusations of blasphemy and transgression; the power of profanities to discomfort, if not to shock, has also often been intentionally harnessed by avantgarde writers as a means of experiment and protest.

German-speaking culture has a long history of clashes – some productive, some catastrophic – between dogmatic tendencies and intellectual or artistic ingenuity, between aesthetic conservatism and radical avantgardism. This lecture series seeks to present case studies of German-language authors whose works have violated, or been considered to violate, the boundaries of what is acceptable in the public sphere.  How have debates on literature and the profane contributed to notions of authorship and the author’s social and moral responsibilities? What aesthetic value has been accorded to blasphemous utterance, when and by whom? What role has taboo-breaking played in the development of modern German-language literature?

Leverhulme Visiting Professor Dirk Van Hulle

The study of modern manuscripts – the research field of what is referred to as critique génétique or genetic criticism – has a direct link with the concept of European literature. When Victor Hugo donated his manuscripts to the French national library in Paris, he specified that this library would one day be 'la bibliothèque des États-Unis d'Europe' ('the library of the United States of Europe'). The act of systematically keeping one's manuscripts is a relatively recent phenomenon in literature, but it is by no means restricted to particular national literatures. Winner of a European Research Council grant for a project on Samuel Beckett's manuscripts, Professor Van Hulle has shown in seminal publications on manuscripts by European authors such as Proust, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Charles Darwin that the study of modern manuscripts and writers' libraries is an excellent method for examining the interrelationships between European literatures and cultures. During his period as a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Kent, Professor Van Hulle will work with both established scholars and doctoral researchers to share the knowledge and expertise developed through his research projects, thus helping to build new collaborative partnerships with UK researchers.

Research seminars

Spring Term 2017

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Week 14: Professor Emmanuel Bouju: 'Literature on Credit: The French Novel Today'

Tuesday 24 January, 5.15pm, Darwin seminar room 1

In the past twenty years, French literature has lived on credit, or rather on the credit of the last century. Placed at the heart of a crisis of trust in public speech, in democracy (which is still undergoing a state of emergency), and in social economics, it has decreased in fiduciary value. Nevertheless this talk will argue for a new strength and a new authority for the French novel: a strength and an authority that are related to a gradual shift from "the indiciary paradigm" to the "fiduciary paradigm".


A former student of the École Normale Supérieure, Emmanuel Bouju is a Visiting Professor at Harvard University, and is currently Professor of Comparative Literature at the Université de Rennes 2 and Senior Member of the Institut Universitaire de France. Prof. Bouju's publications include Réinventer la littérature : démocratisation et modèles romanesques dans l'Espagne post-franquiste (with a preface by Jorge Semprún, 2002), La transcription de l'histoire. Essai sur le roman européen de la fin du vingtième siècle (2006), and Fragments d'un discours théorique (2015). 

Week 14: Dr Patricia Norvilla-Corvalán: 'Historicising Virginia Woolf's 'The Voyage Out': Argentina, Modernity, and the Meat Trade'

Thursday 26 January 2017, 5.00pm, Woolf College, seminar room 6

In this paper, I seek to recuperate the overlooked Latin American contexts that inform Virginia Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out (1915). Integrating archival research and a historicising approach, I utilise documentary evidence drawn from the research notes that Virginia Woolf conducted for Leonard Woolf's study Empire and Commerce in Africa (1920), namely, empirical data relating to political-economic issues in Latin America and, more specifically, to Argentina. In so doing, I demonstrate that Virginia Woolf puts the complex issue of Great Britain's neocolonial domination in Latin America squarely on the cultural agenda of The Voyage Out. I suggest that the archival documents acutely illustrate the extent of Britain's disproportionate economic control of Argentina through the development of the meat industry that turned the Argentine Republic into the abattoir of the British Empire. I argue that this documentary evidence complements and complicates the political message of The Voyage Out, whereby Woolf mercilessly denounces Britain's attempt to gain economic control of the continent through the predatory figure of Willoughby Vinrace and his high stakes in the meat trade. The paper also seeks to question some of the assumptions undergirding Woolf's relationship to Latin America in an endeavour to challenge the prevailing view that her knowledge of the continent was vague, deficient and, at its worst, non-existent. Rather, I seek to show that she was the possessor of a complex socio-economic knowledge of a country such as Argentina, a claim based not only on crucial documentation gathered from the research notes she undertook for Empire and Commerce, but also on textual evidence drawn from The Voyage Out and Melymbrosia. By elucidating Woolf's complex awareness of pressing geopolitical issues in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Argentina, I seek to move beyond the romanticised rhetoric that constitutes an integral part of her epistolary relationship with Victoria Ocampo and that has so far framed the majority of scholarly work on this subject.

Patricia Novillo-Corvalán is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent. She is the author of Borges and Joyce: An Infinite Conversation (2011) and the editor of the collection of essays, Latin American and Iberian Perspectives on Literature and Medicine (2015). Her second monograph entitled, Modernism and Latin America: Transnational Networks of Literary Exchange is forthcoming with Routledge in 2017.

Week 16: Dr Mathilde Poizat-Amar: 'A Gap in the Literature: Travels in 1980's Francophone Writing'

Thursday 9 February 2017, 5pm in Woolf College, seminar room 6

'"A Gap in the Literature": Travels in 1980s Francophone Writing'

Week 18: Mylène Branco 'L.P. Hartley's Facial Justice and the Uses and Abuses of Cosmetic Surgery'

Thursday 23 February 2017, 5pm in Woolf College, seminar room 6

This paper examines the overlooked medical contexts underpinning L.P. Hartley's dystopian novel Facial Justice (1960), especially the rise of plastic surgery procedures in the wake of the two World Wars and the early history of the National Health System (NHS). In so doing, I articulate Hartley's serious concerns and anxieties about the growing power of the medical profession by documenting the author's reservations about the political structures of the welfare state, which were introduced by Clement Attlee's Labour Government between the years 1945-1951. Although acknowledged as the pillar of the newly created welfare state, the NHS and its institutional values triggered a series of moral issues around which the novel's dystopian elements revolve. I also aim to discuss how Hartley's Facial Justice is informed by the pioneering work of Sir Archibald McIndoe, plastic surgeon to the RAF during the Second World War, who received a knighthood for his life-saving treatments of facially disfigured soldiers. I show that Hartley utilised McIndoe's surgical developments in order to radically transpose them to the abusive power structures underlying his dystopian society where women, not men, are the patients subjected to the unnecessary surgical procedures performed by all-powerful male physicians. Through close reading of selected passages, I analyse the sexual politics of idealisation and the resulting power struggle at work in Facial Justice



Research seminars

Summer Term 2016

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Week 25: Dr Rubén Peinado Abarrio: 'The (Often-Mentioned but Rarely Explained) Influence of Raymond Carver on Post-1990 Spanish Narrative'

Thursday 12 May, 5.00pm, Grimond seminar room 4

Abstract to follow

Week 28: Wabiy Salawu: Coercive and Oppressive Corruption as Precept of Revolt in Maghrebi society

Thursday 2 June, 5.00pm, Grimond seminar room 6

'Coercive and Oppressive Corruption as a Precursory Factor of Revolt in the Maghrebi Society through L'Homme Rompu by Tahar Ben Jelloun'

If society’s future depends on people’s global aspirations and the world view of leaders, it is also symptomatic of the orientation given by each individual to life in their environment. 

This paper, taking Tahar Ben Jelloun’s L’Homme Rompu as its primary text, will examine the passive economic corruption that has been endemic in Moroccan society for some considerable time. Ben Jelloun’s novel – direct, frank and not adhering to hackneyed phrases – was produced after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, during a period of resurgent democratic movements demanding freedom of expression in the Middle East, the Arab Maghreb, and Europe. Consequently, this critical discussion of the novel, applied through the lens of Jürgen and Ursula Link’s ‘Interdiscursive Events’ that identify a ‘System of Collective Symbols’, will allow access to elements of a coercive and oppressive corruption grounded in the view, conception and attitude of a group of people for whom passive economic corruption self-evidently represents the normative foundation of social life.
Application of the System of Collective Symbols – not limited to the fluctuating nature of words and expressions – will facilitate close examination and excavation of the evident and contradictory nature of ideas expressed in Ben Jelloun’s text. This theoretical framework, relating to expressions or groups of words, will be used in order to present clearly the multifarious contours of endemic corruption, which – in their representation in Ben Jelloun’s text – arguably foreshadow the Arab Spring.

Jurgen Link and Ursula Link, ‘The Revolution and the Collective Symbols. Elements of a Grammar of Interdiscursive Event’, Sociocriticism, Vol.1, N0.1 (1985).



School of European Culture & Languages, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX

Enquiries: +44 (0)1227 827159 or email the School of European Culture & Languages

Last Updated: 17/02/2017