This course examines the carnivalesque representations of women and femininity in American literature and culture: from crones, witches, and madwomen to monsters, drag queens, and the hottentot venus. Reading a selection of secondary sources (including Mary Russo's "The Female Grotesque," Mary Douglas's "Purity and Danger," Julia Kristeva "The Powers of Horror," Dennis Todd's "Imagining Monsters: Miscreations of the Self in Eighteenth-Century England," and Evelyn Ender's "Sexing the Mind: Nineteenth-Century Fictions of Hysteria," students will examine the idealogical constructions of and cultural anxiety over the female grotesque.
They will consider, moreover, the various taboos and technologies that reproduce these representations as well as corporeal and moral punishments to female "deviants," who stray from the cultural norms for female beauty and feminine decorum. Reading fiction (i.e. Hannah Foster's "The Coquette," Flannery O'Connor's "Everything that Rises Must Converge," Carson McCuller's "The Member of the Wedding," Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"), viewing films ("Freaks," "Without You I'm Nothing," and "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert"), and examining photographs and paintings (Sander Gilman,"Picturing Health and Illness: Images of Identity and Difference"), students will analyze how these grotesque images of femininity perpetuate a notion of cultural "difference" based on sexuality, ethnicity, race, region, and religion. And they will test their own assumptions about the female grotesque with field trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum at the College of Physicians, and Eastern State Penitentiary.