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19th Century Black Women

ENGL 290.402
MW 3-4:30

In this course we will examine the effects of a national politics expressed through a family-nation rhetoric that is frequently synonymous with a rhetoric of racial purity upon literary representation of the family (and thus political) outsider. Post-Reconstruction came to a close (to paraphrase the title of D. W. Griffith's film) with the birth of a white nation; and it will be our general project to consider the ways in which the literature helps produce the new white nation and its political, social and racial alternatives. But we will be most concerned with the ways in which this political fiction constitutes itself as a defense of black womanhood and with the ways in which this womanhood defense is conflated with and complicated by a defense of race. Our more narrow focus, then, will be upon the representation and self-representations of black women. We will ask, for example, how these texts imagine and represent a black female ideality; how they manage the tension between female ideality and female sexuality; how they manage the tension in the identity "race woman;" how they imagine and/or reconstruct the place of women in a race history. Authors will include Thomas Nelson Page, Kate Chopin, Anna Julia Cooper, Pauline Hopkins, Charles Chestnutt, Nella Larsen, Jean Toomer and others. We will also read selections from the criticism.

Students will take turns in making short, informal discussion-starter presentations and will be expected actively to engage one another and the materials under discussion. There will be two short essay assignments during the semester and a take-home final essay exam. Students will also maintain and occasionally submit a readings-response journal.