Helena Duffy profile picture
Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS)

Areas of expertise

20th– and 21st–century French literature and cinema
cultural representations of World War I, World War II and the Holocaust
narrative ethics


I am currently Collegium Researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS) where I am investigating literary representations of Jewish mothers under Nazi persecution in a transcultural perspective. I am also teaching courses 'French Holocaust Fiction' and 'Motherhood in French Literature' in the Department of Comparative Literature. At the same time, together with with Dr Marta Laura Cenedese (UTU), I coordinating Study Circle 4 ‘Narrative and Violence’ (2020-2022) operating under the auspices of the Nordic Summer University (NSU) and with funding from the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM). Finally, I am part of the research network SELMA also based at the University of Turku. 

Before moving to Finland in July 2019, I was Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow (2016–1018) and Teaching Fellow in French and Comparative Literature (2018–2019) at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). The EU-funded research, which was concerned with the appropriateness of postmodern narrative strategies to represent the Nazi genocide of the Jews, resulted in the monograph 'Inventing the Infranovel: The Aesthetic, Ethics and Politics of Holocaust Representation in French Postmodern Fiction' (forthcoming, Legenda), journal articles, conference presentations, public lectures and diverse outreach activities such as school talks and guided tours.

In my career, I also lectured at other UK universities (Hull, Oxford Brookes), as well as in Poland (Wrocław), France (Clermont–Ferrand) and Australia (University of Queensland, University of New England).

I am the author of many publications, including the warmly received recently published full–length study 'World War II in Andreï Makine’s Historiographic Metafiction: No One Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Forgotten' (Brill, 2018). My articles have have appeared in journals such as 'French Studies', 'Forum for Modern Language Studies' (FMLS), 'Modern and Contemporary France' (MCF), 'Holocaust Studies' and 'Journal of Holocaust Research'. Recently, I have contributed chapters to 'Contemporary Fiction in French' (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming) and to 'Refocus: Films of François Ozon' (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming). I have also edited four issues of academic journals, including the recently published volume of 'French Forum' ('The Holocaust in French and Francophone Literature (1997-2017)') and the forthcoming volume of 'Journal of Holocaust Research' (‘Motherhood during and after the Holocaust: Fictional and Testimonial Perspectives’).


My teaching career spans nearly twenty years. It began in Further Education colleges in South-East London where I taught A-Level French and French for Business, before moving on to Higher Education in 1997. A year later, I obtained the Higher Education Teaching Certificate (University of Hull), which has recently been upgraded to the Higher Education Academy Fellowship (UK). I have taught French language and culture in Australia (University of Queensland and University of New England), France (Université Blaise-Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand), Poland (University of Wrocław), the United Kingdom (Royal Holloway, Oxford Brookes University, University of Hull) and, most recently, Finland (University of Turku). I have designed and convened courses on autobiographical writing, representations of women in French fiction and cinema, cultural figurations of World War II and the Holocaust, Literary Theory, postmodernism, and postmodern French fiction. In my career, I have successfully supervised over forty MA dissertations and a doctoral thesis on Claude Simon and Gaston Bachelard. In Australia, I was twice nominated for the Best Teacher Award. 


My research interests lie with contemporary French literature and cinema, with a particular focus on postmodernism, narratives and counternarratives of military conflicts and the Holocast, and narrative ethics. My MSt dissertation (Oxon) and PhD thesis (Oxford Brookes) addressed the linguistic, cultural and ethical questions arising from the work of non–native French authors (Miland Kundera, Andrei Makine, Hector Bianciotti, Rodica Iulian). My recently first monograph, 'World War II in Andreï Makine’s Historiographic Metafiction', probes the depiction of the Great Fatherland War (June 1941–May 1945) found in the prose of the contemporary Russian–born French–language novelist. More specifically, the study questions Makine's apparently postmodern commitment to the histories of those excluded from the official Soviet narrative on the war. Among those neglected groups were the civilian victims of the siege of Leningrad, frontline nurses, POWs, war invalids and Jewish Red Army soldiers and Holocaust victims. Ultimately, my work demonstrates the author's subscription to the propagandist image of the war promulgated during the Soviet era and recently revived by the Putin administration. 

I have also published on topics as diverse as the cinema of Andrzej Żuławski, Lidia Bobrova and François Ozon; cultural representations of World War I; cinematic adaptations of Madame de Lafayette’s 17th–century novel 'La Princesse de Clèves' or the work of contemporary French novelist, Antoine Volodine. As illustrated by my articles on Philippe Claudel’s 2007 novel 'Le Rapport de Brodeck', Yannick Haenel’s 'Jan Karski', Pierre Assouline’s 'La Cliente', and Art Spiegelman’s 'Maus', my recent research has been guided by the concern with the ethical tension between postmodern aesthetics and the widespread conception of the Holocaust as a topic resistant to innovative narrative strategies. This tension is the subject of the monograph that I have recently completed and that examines novels by Patrick Modiano, Jonathan Littell, Fabrice Humbert, Laurent Binet, Philippe Claudel, Pierre Assouline, Yannick Haenel, and Soazig Aaron. 

Following on from my postdoctoral research, my current project pays attention to the little discussed predicament of Jewish mothers under Nazi persecution, as portrayed by fiction across languages and cultures. ‘Motherhood under Attack: A Transcultural Study of Holocaust literature’ responds to the protracted neglect of the gender perspective in Holocaust Studies and inscribes itself into the belated advent of research into Jewish women’s experience of racial persecution. As part of the project, I will study matrifocal texts (e.g. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer’s 'Anya', Cynthia Ozick’s 'The Shawl', Colombe Schneck’s 'La Réparation' etc.) and propose matrifocal readings of works that grant the mother’s experience a less prominent place (e.g. Emily Prager’s 'Eve’s Tattoo', Philippe Claudel’s 'Le Rapport de Brodeck', Art Spiegelman's 'Maus'). Apart from drawing attention to an overlooked aspect of Holocaust literature and relating literary depictions of Jewish motherhood in extremis to the erstwhile absence of a feminist focus in Holocaust historiography, my project sets out to comment upon the ethical investment of the depictions of Jewish mothers. In so doing, the research will relate this investment to theoretical developments in motherhood studies and (post)feminist theory, and in particular to the tension between the essentialist view of motherhood (motherhood as biological destiny/moral imperative), and the more recent constructivist perspective (motherhood as an assumed/imposed role).


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