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Sonja Pyykkö

Sonja Pyykkoe

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin



Visiting Scholar Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, New York


Doctoral Candidate Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany


Humboldt Research Track Scholarship Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany


Master of Arts in British Studies Centre for British Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Master’s thesis on writing recovery in addiction memoirs by women.


Bachelor of Arts in Literature University of Tampere, Finland


Comparative Literature University of Turku, Finland



X-Student Research Group: Confession in New Media 
(funded by the Berlin University Alliance)


X-Student Research Group: Confession in New Media 
(funded by the Berlin University Alliance)

Professional Experience


Freelance Writer and Editor.


Academic Editor Finnish Youth Research Society.


Editorial Intern Nuori Voima -literary magazine.

Confession in the Contemporary American Novel (dissertation project)

Dissertation in Literature

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Mark Currie 
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Florian Sedlmeier

As a genre of literature, the confessional novel is nearly as old and established as the novel itself: The first confessional novel, Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), is usually listed second in the order of modern novels, right after Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719). Yet, compared to other long-standing novelistic genres, such the picaresque novel or theBildungsroman, the confessional novel remains an obscure and largely misunderstood genre of literature. In what amounts to the first literary theoretical examination of the genre, I begin by defining confessional novels as works of fiction in which the narrative discourse itself becomes a site of confession. Confessional novels should thus not be confused with autobiographical novels or romans à clef, as both characterize novels which can justifiably be read as the concealed autobiographies of their authors. Confessional novels, by contrast, posit an imaginary character—often the story’s narrator or protagonist—who confesses to events that have no direct referent in the ‘real’ world. By drawing on French philosopher Paul Ricœur’s work on “the language of confession,” I argue that this combination of a fictional mode with a confessional form and thematic allows confessional novels to serve as laboratories of the individual conscience—virtual spaces akin to the confession booth or the jury box—in which readers are invited to exercise their own ethical judgements as they navigate the labyrinthine moral dilemmas of imagined others. In my dissertation, I will put this theory to the test with analyses of some of the most brilliant novels—many of which have never before been read as ‘confessional’—of the “American century,” to use journalist Walter Lippmann’s phrase for the period after World War II: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955); James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956); Saul Bellow’s Herzog (1964); Walker Percy’s Lancelot (1978); Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982); and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991). As a clear departure from earlier literary and cultural criticism on confession, I approach these novels not expecting to find coercion and complicity, but with an eye for the generative, ethical value of confessing. Through careful analyses of some of the past century’s most unforgettable confessions, my research also throws new light on several of this century’s most pressing questions: How do we hold people accountable for their actions? If one person trespasses against another, what tools, other than legal action, do we as a society have for mending things?




“Introduction: Fictions of Distance in Recent American Literature,” AmLit–American Literatures, edited by Fabian Eggers and Sonja Pyykkö (forthcoming).


“Fever of Repetition: Cyclic Returns in Ling Ma’s Severance,” AmLit—American Literatures, edited by Fabian Eggers and Sonja Pyykkö (forthcoming).   


Conference Papers


“Theorizing Confession in Contemporary Autofiction,” conference paper presented at Autofiction: Theory, Practices, Cultures, Wolfson College, The University of Oxford, 19-20 October 2019.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft