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Sex, Shame and Guilt: Reflections on Bernhard Schlink's der Vorleser (the Reader) and J

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  • Essay length: 15467 words
  • Submitted: 17/10/2006
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University Degree Literary Criticism

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Sex, Shame and Guilt: Reflections on Bernhard Schlink's der Vorleser (the Reader) and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace.

by Martin Swales

The occasion for this paper was twofold. One had to do with the fact that I happened to read Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser (The Reader) (1995) and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999) in close proximity to each other. This, in itself, is not particularly remarkable because the novels themselves were published within a few years of each other. But there are proximities and proximities; and in my case the closeness was made of months rather than years. The second catalyst was a recent article by William Collins Donahue which, as its title makes clear--'Illusions of subtlety: Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser and the moral limits of Holocaust fiction' (1)--takes a very sceptical view both of Schlink's tale and of the almost unanimously enthusiastic response to which it has given rise.

Let me turn to the two novels: to the similarities between them, and to a particular thematic issue common to both of them which is not without its problematic implications. Both The Reader and Disgrace, in terms of the story that they recount, fall

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