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Conference – Life Writing and European Identities (A.S. Byatt)

On the occasion of the awarding of the Erasmus Prize 2016 to A.S. Byatt

Date: November 16, 2016
Time: 10:00 – 19:00
(Pre-meeting only for students who follow the Masterclass:  November 2 from 14:00 – 17:00, at Academic Building – Westerdijkkamer, Domplein 29 Utrecht)
Venue: Paushuize, Kromme Nieuwegracht 49, Utrecht
Open to: PhD candidates & RMa students, members of OSL and the Huizinga Institute will have first access
The conference is open to anyone who’s interested. If you would like to attend the conference, please send an e-mail to

The British novelist A.S. Byatt will receive the 2016 Erasmus Prize for her contribution to the genre of life writing. To mark this occasion, Praemium Erasmianum, the Huizinga Instituut voor Cultuurgeschiedenis and the Onderzoekschool Literatuurwetenschap (OSL) are organizing a one-day seminar to examine the role of life writing in the construction of European identities.

Byatt’s oeuvre provides ample opportunity to explore the ways life writing constitutes and performs identities on multiple levels. As Byatt once wrote, she became ‘European’ through reading. The stories of Homer, Racine, Goethe and Proust provided her with an imaginative entry into cultural forms available outside of Britain and awakened a sense of Europeanness that shaped her literary consciousness. Engaging with this European tradition, Byatt has blurred boundaries between fact and fiction-oriented genres and experimented with different forms of writing lives. Since many of her novels also deal with crucial events and epochs in European history, Byatts work can be seen as an invitation to reflect on the interpretation and (re)construction of the past that we need to make sense of our lives, both individually and collectively.

The conference will focus on life writing, literature and European identities. The contributions will address the following topics:

  • ‘Life writing: genres, forms and traditions’: which European traditions of narrating subjectivity can be distinguished?
  • ‘The representation of Europe’: what images, conceptions and narratives of Europe and European history can be identified in life writing?
  • ‘New Forms and Practices of Self-Narration’: what forms of tale-telling and practices of self-representation do we have today?

(Provisional) Programme

Moderator: Ann Rigney (Utrecht University)

10.00-10.30: Opening

Part I: Byatt and life writing; genres, forms and traditions

  • Max Saunders (King’s College London): ‘Auto/biography and fiction in modernist and post-modernist literature’
  • Léon Hanssen (Tilburg University): ‘Piet Mondrian and the ideal of an artist’s life: on being Dutch, metropolitan or sacred’

12.15-13.30: Lunch break

Part II: Representations of Europe and the politics of belonging

  • Elisabeth Bekers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) ‘Perspectives on Europe in post-colonial life writing’
  • Gabriele Linke (Universität Rostock) ‘Narrative strategies and belonging in autobiographical writing in post-communist Europe’

15.00-15.15: Coffee and Tea

Part III: New Forms of Self-Presentation

  • Odile Heynders (Tilburg University) ‘The Life of a Man: Karl Ove Knausgaard’
  • Anna Poletti (Utrecht University) ‘What can a critic do? New forms of life writing and scholarship’

16.45- 17.00: Summing up and closure

17.00-19.00: Drinks

Offered by the Faculty of Humanities Utrecht University
Venue: Akademiegebouw, Domplein 29, Utrecht (Maskeradezaal)

Participation of RMa students (OSL and Huizinga)

RMa students can obtain 2 EC for active participation in the conference, the preparation of readings and the writing of an essay on the topic of event.

  • Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography. A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives 2001. 2nd edition University of Minnesota Press 2010.
  • Barbara Caine, Biography and History. Palgrave MacMillan 2010.
  • Max Saunders, Self-Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010, pp. 1-29.
  • A.S. Byatt, ‘Hoe ik Europees werd’, NEXUS 205, nr. 42, pp. 129-136.
  • A.S. Byatt, What is a European’, in The New York Times, 13 October 2002.
  • Recommended: A.S. Byatt, Possession (1990) en The Biographer’s Tale (2001)


Also interesting: Masterclass – A.S. BYATT AT 80


Afbeelding: Barbara van Santen

Image: Barbara van Santen