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Women, Sex, and Power: Literature and the Rise of Feminism

ENGL 090.401
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12

Is it possible for a woman to be feminine and powerful? Ambitious and domestic? A mother and a feminist? Our society's uneasiness with these questions reveals its impossible and conflicted expectations of twenty-first century women. Perhaps a heightened understanding of our current dilemma of overwhelmed gender identity will come from a glance backward at the long history of feminism. This course will focus on the history of social, political, and cultural constructions of gender, as represented in literature. We will follow women's quest for and attainment of power in an attempt to pinpoint the ways in which the women's movement extends to, is driven by, and is regularly hindered by literature. By means of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century literature, theory, and criticism, we will trace the origins and rise of the women's movement, looking particularly at issues of sexuality, desire, maternity, and ambition.

Over the course of the semester, we will study the works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Anne Brontë, Emily Brontë, William Thackeray, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison. The reading load will of necessity be quite heavy. Course requirements include two essays, a presentation, and a final exam, in addition to lively participation and regular attendance.