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Literature and Reconciliation


Admission requirements

Relevant BA degree


During this course we will examine representations of interpersonal reconciliation in works of literature from the early modern period to the present day, with a focus on prose fiction from the eighteenth century to the present. How have literary writers imagined the ways in which people settle conflicts? The case studies on which we will focus include: William Shakespeare’s Coriolanu; John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Books 10 and 11); William Godwin’s Caleb Williams; Charles Dickens’s Bleak House; Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace; Ian McEwan’s Atonement; Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead; Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and Itsuwa.

We will look at reconciliation scenes both in the intimate, domestic sphere (between parents and children, for example) and in more public, political contexts. Indeed, one of our analytical principles for the course is that all forms of reconciliation, include those that occur in intimate settings such as the family, have a political dimension. The research questions on which we will focus include: how do concepts of interpersonal reconciliation draw on theological language of divine forgiveness, and what consequences does this have? How should we understand the links between reconciliation and power? In relation to this, how does reconciliation interact with issues of gender, class and race? How have literary representations of reconciliation changed from early modernity to the present day?

This course is offered at the 600 level but can also be taken as a 500-level course, for example by students in the one-year MA in Literary Studies.

Course objectives

At the end of the course students will:

  • Be able to reflect analytically and theoretically on the nature of interpersonal reconciliation and conflict resolution, including its ethical and political dimensions

  • Be able to reflect analytically and theoretically on literary representations of interpersonal reconciliation, from early modernity to the present day, including their ethical and political dimensions.

  • Have deepened their ability to engage in serious academic dialogue with others – especially, though not exclusively, on these issues.

  • Have further developed their academic presentation skills.

  • Have further developed their academic writing skills by means of a substantial research essay.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Classroom Presentation (25%)

  • Research essay (5,500 words) (75%)

Research MA students should analyse at least one literary work not on the reading list for this course. Their research essay should also offer substantial theoretical reflection on reconciliation and its portrayal in literature.

Students who fail the course can submit a revised version of their research essay if their essay grade is at least a 5. If their essay grade is lower than a 5, they must write a new research essay on a new topic.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The reading load for this course is substantial, so it’s advisable to read ahead (you’re encouraged to read Bleak House and Atonement – the longest novels on the reading list – before the start of the course).

  • William Shakespeare, Coriolanus. Any good recent edition (for example: Cambridge, Oxford, Arden III; contact the course convenor if in doubt).

  • John Milton, Paradise Lost Online edition at this website.

  • William Godwin, Caleb Williams

  • Charles Dickens, Bleak House

  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

  • Joy Kogawa, Obasan

  • Joy Kogawa, Itsuka

  • J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

  • Ian McEwan, Atonement

  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

In addition to these literary works, we will read a number of scholarly articles and book chapters (mostly downloadable via the online library catalogue); these will be announced in due course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la cart en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen


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