OSL Ravenstein Winter School New Perspectives on the Novel: Histories, Forms, Representations

Utrecht, 18-20 January 2023


  • Karin Kukkonen (University of Oslo)
  • Caroline Levine (Cornell University)
  • Richard Jean So (McGill University)

Although the novel has been declared dead many times (e.g. Gasset (1925), Benjamin (1930) Sukenick (1969)), we have never officially buried it. As a form of narrative prose it continues to engage writers, readers, publishers, and scholars today. Since Miguel de Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) – often considered the first modern novel – the genre underwent various transformations in terms of genre, character, narration, symbolism, and style. And although digitalisation and datafication irreversibly changed the modern media landscape, new modes of novel writing continue to emerge in the twenty-first century, demonstrating the perpetual value of this 400-years old literary genre. The novel, in other words, seems here to stay.

Literary scholars have repeatedly emphasized the pivotal function of novels in the development of modern societies. Lynn Hunt (2007), for instance, argued that the emergence of human rights in the eighteenth century were partly indebted to the democratic and progessive potential of epistolary novels such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761). A recurring argument is that novels provide a platform for readers to be trained in empathy and compassion, which is echoed in Iann Watt’s canonical The Rise of the Novel (1957) and Martha Nussbaum’s famous defense of the humanities in Not For Profit (2010). By making us change perspective, novels make the world a better place. Or so it seems. This winter school will promote new perspectives on the novel by approaching it from three interrelated angles:

  1. Histories. How has the novel transformed in a period of approximately 400 years,
    and how is that literary history reflected in novels? What do these transformations
    tell us about the novel’s status in society? Is there a categorical difference between
    Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605) and Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About
    This (2021)?
  2. Forms. How does the formal arrangement of the novel organize other – aesthetic
    and social – forms? What does it mean to be reading novels in today’s attention
    economy? What is left of the political potential of novels in times of war, economic
    uncertainty and climate collapse?
  3. Representations. What do novels represent and how do they do so? What are the
    politics and limits of literary representations of gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality,
    and other identity categories?

The Ravenstein Seminar 2023 offers an exciting program of both Dutch and international scholars specializing in the study of the novel, including confirmed keynotes Richard Jean So (McGill University), Karin Kukkonen (University of Oslo) and Caroline Levine (Cornell University). Besides plenary lectures and panel sessions on the history, form, and politics of novels from various language fields and cultural contexts, the program contains hands-on workshops about research methods tailored for the study of both individual cases and large collections of novels. Particular attention will be paid to digital humanities approaches to close and distant reading.

We invite ResMa students and PhD students to participate in this winter school by means of a focused paper and active participation during the three-day gathering. The programme offers keynote lectures, discussion sessions with the keynote speakers, workshops and a roundtable discussion with Dutch novelists and literary scholars. During the workshops the participants will apply and discuss two methodological approaches of the novel: ‘Reading novels in the attention economy’ and ‘Computational approaches to the novel’. We will use Patrica Lockwood’s recent novel No one is talking about this (2021) as a case study in both workshops. Make sure to read the novel to prepare for the workshops. Other readings and mandatory reading assignments will be provided in advance by the organizers.


The Ravenstein Seminar 2023 is hosted by Utrecht University.
● Wednesday January 18th: Belle van Zuylenzaal of the Utrecht University Hall
(Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, 3512 JE Utrecht)
● Thursday January 19th: Belle van Zuylenzaal of the Utrecht University Hall
(Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, 3512 JE Utrecht)
● Friday January 20th: Room JK15A-004, Janskerkhof 15A

Lucas van der Deijl, Roel Smeets, Inge van de Ven

Enroll & see more info here.