Strathclyde academic lauds Nobel Prize winner

A University of Strathclyde academic has spoken of the shock and surprise he felt when the subject of decades-long research work of his was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dr Alan Morris, senior lecturer in French, is an expert on Patrick Modiano, who, this October, became the 111th Nobel Prize for Literature winner and the 15th French writer to win the prestigious award.

Recalling the Nobel Prize announcement, which was made on 9 October, Dr Morris said:

“It was a complete shock; I didn’t know he was in the running at all until I caught something in the newspapers a day or two before the announcement, which suggested he was coming up in the betting lists, which often seems to suggest something.

On the day of the announcement I returned from a class to find a mass of emails from journalists asking for interviews and articles. It was a complete surprise - it all just exploded in the space of an hour.

The influence of war

Patrick Modiano was born in a suburb of Paris in July 1945, two months after the Second World War ended in Europe.

His father was of Jewish Italian origins and met his Belgian actor mother in Paris during the Occupation. Modiano’s beginnings have strongly influenced his writing; Jewishness, the Nazi occupation and loss of identity are recurrent themes in his novels.

French author Patrick Modiano

Dr Morris has been interested in the works of the 69-year-old French writer for more than three decades. He has written two books and numerous articles on Modiano and has taught many Strathclyde students about the Frenchman’s work.  He said:

“I have been reading Modiano from a relatively early stage in his own writing career. He published his first work in 1968, and I started reading his work about ten years later when I was preparing my PhD. I have been working on him, in one way or another, since then.

“The reason I got really interested in his work is that he went back to the Occupation, the Second World War.

There was a certain picture of France during the War that was presented for about 30 years after the War that was basically positive, and then Modiano began to scratch beneath the surface and deal with stories of collaboration and French involvement in the Holocaust.

“He was in advance of what became a trend in the 1970s, what the French called the ‘retro fashion’ where what happened during the War, and France’s involvement in it, was re-assessed.”

Exploring Modiano's roots

The Strathclyde academic has never had the opportunity to meet the celebrated French writer, who very rarely gives interviews, though, in the coming weeks and months, Dr Morris is hoping to discover more about Modiano’s sources. He said:

“I’m trying to go back to where he started. Like many modern writers Modiano draws on various things, various genres, some of which are very popular forms of text.”

At the Nobel Prize on Literature announcement, Peter Englund, the Nobel Academy’s permanent secretary, read a citation which said Modiano had won ‘for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation’.


Photo: Patrick Modiano in Börshuset in Stockholm during the Swedish Academy's press conference on 6 December 2014, courtesy of Frankie Fouganthin.