English 550.640: Representing Women and Legal Identity


Elise Bruhl (ebruhl@dept.english.upenn.edu)

Michael Gamer

Course Home Page Location: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~ebruhl/2000syllabus550.html

Course Listserver Address: gamer550-640@dept.english.upenn.edu

Class meets: Tuesday evening, 6:30-9:10

Office: 203 Bennett Hall

Office Hours: Before and after class and by appointment

Office Phone: (215) 898-7346 or 898-7341

FAX: (215) 573-2063


Course Description: In 1816 when Lord Byron's wife, Annabella Millbank, left him after six months of unremitting psychological (and, as we now know, psychological and sexual) abuse, she could not seek a legal separation of her own. Rather, her father had to sue Byron for breach of marriage contract, claiming damage to property (his daughter) entrusted to Byron accompanied by a large sum of money (the dowry). This was the only course of action that Mrs. Byron could take because she did not exist in the eyes of the law as a separate and independent legal entity. The suit for separation, therefore, took place between two men (Byron and Annabella's father) who had negotiated the marriage contract.

With these kinds of stories in mind, this course will explore women's legal history (or lack thereof) through literary, historical, and legal scholarly texts. More importantly, however, the seminar will explore the ways in which the law has shaped, if not constituted, women's identities in Anglo-American culture--controlling not only women's ability to own property and to divorce--but also such fundamental things as how they are represented in fiction, in Congress, and in the legal system. While similar to a traditional law school course, this seminar will also have a broad interdisciplinary focus and will often base itself in discussion and intellectual exchange as well as in lectures and Socratic method. There will be a number of responses as well as two essays.


Books: Available at Penn Book Center, 34th and Samson, (215) 222-7600.

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey (Oxford)

Brautigan, Richard. The Revenge of the Lawn/The Abortion/So the Wind Won't Block it All Away (Houghton-Mifflin; a collection of three works by him)

Bronte, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Penguin).

Carlson, Peggie. The Girls Are Coming (Minnesota Historical Society)

Carter, Angela, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (Penguin).

Collins, Wilkie, The Woman in White (Penguin)

Fein, Ellen and Sherry Schneider. The Rules (Warner).

Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract (Stanford)


Coursepack: A selection of photocopied materials is available at Wharton Reprographics, Basement of the Wharton School, Locust Walk.


Course Calendar:


Sept 12: Introduction to course. In class, we'll look at some selections from John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Declaration of Independence.


Sept 19: Sex, Marriage and Violence: Read Laurence Stone, "Sex, Money, and Murder in Eighteenth-Century England"; Anna Clark, "Women's Pain, Men's Pleasure: Rape in the Late Eighteenth Century"; and Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey.


September 24: First response due.

Sept 26: Marriage and the Social Contract: Read Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract.


October 1: Second response due.

Oct 3: Marriage and Property: Read Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (first half). We'll discuss this text in relation to Pateman and the readings we've done thus far in the course.


October 8: Third response due.

Oct 10: Marriage and Property II: Finish Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. We'll be discussing the novel in relation to the chapter entitled "On Being the Object of Property" in Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights.


October 15: Fourth response due.

Oct 17: Marriage and Violence I: Read Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.


Oct 24: Marriage and Violence II: Finish Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.


October 29: Fifth response due.

Oct 31: Women, Sexuality, and Power: Read Ellen Fein and Sherry Schneider, The Rules (Warner Books, 1995); Read Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber.  


November 5: Sixth response due.

Nov 7: Reproductive Rights: Read Rickie Solinger, The Abortionist (selections in coursepack) and Elaine Tyler May, Barren in the Promised Land (selections in coursepack).


November 12: Seventh response due.

Nov 14: Reproductive Rights II: Read Richard Brautigan, The Abortion. Read also the selections from Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and some synopses of recent caselaw (in coursepack).


November 19: Final (eighth) response due.

Nov 21: Women in the Workplace: Read Catharine MacKinnon, "An Open Letter to Phyllis Schlafly" and Peggie Carlson, The Girls Are Coming.


Nov 28: Women, the Workplace, and Reproduction: Read  Joan Williams "Gender Wars: Selfish Women in the Republic of Choice."


Dec 5: Critical Race Theory and the Law: Read Patricia Williams, "The Death of the Profane" and the other final selections in the coursepack.



Attendance and Participation: This class will conduct itself as a seminar--that is, as a group of people sharing mutual interests who meet regularly to pursue those interests. Our class, consequently, will be discussion-based, meaning that the class will only work if you come prepared to talk, to listen, and to question and argue. We've set up the course so that you will have considerable freedom propose questions and agendas from week to week. Obviously, with this freedom comes responsibility. On the one hand, as a class, we must agree to honor each other's tangents, and respect what each other thinks is important; on the other hand, it is every seminar member's responsibility to be succinct, and not to waste the rest of the members' time by riding some personal hobby-horse. Most importantly, it means responding to one another rather than talking at one another.


The Responses and the Format of Class Meetings: For most of our class meetings, you will have prepared a response of under 600 words that you will send to gamer550-640@dept.english.upenn.edu. As our class meets Tuesday evenings, these responses will be due Sunday evening. If you don't have access to e-mail, then please FAX your response to Michael Gamer at (215) 573-2063 on Monday morning. We'll be grading the responses on a scale from + (plus) to √ (check) to - (minus), and will evaluating them based on their engagement, thoughtfulness, and ability to instigate meaningful discussion. You should know that we will downgrade these if they arrive late, since they constitute the single most important part of the course. They will be the basis from which we begin our discussions, and will play a key role in our sense of your involvement and performance in the course.

            You will also find, if you look on your e-mail before you compose your response, that many times the responses of your colleagues will prove to be as much a catalyst to your own writing as the reading itself.  Before class on Tuesday, then, you will be required to read through the responses, and to print them up and bring them in. We will usually thread the responses so that you can print them from the web. For the first response, the web address will be http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Teaching/CGS/response1; for the second it will be http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Teaching/CGS/response2, and so on.


The Two Essays: These are due anytime before October 20 and before December 10. The two assignments are below.


The First Essay: At any point before October 20, please write a 1500-2000 word essay (around 6-8 pages) that fulfills the following assignment: "At some point during the semester, you will find that we as a class have not discussed a particular text in the ways that you think it needs to be discussed. We either will have ignored a vital aspect of that text or have misread it--or perhaps we simply will have failed to discuss the text from an important perspective. Possibly in class you will even have raised this key issue only to find that, for some reason, the class ignores it for some other issue. It is very likely that in illuminating one area of the text we will have made ourselves blind to other, equally interesting areas of the same text. Or possibly we will fail to discuss--or gloss over superficially--an entire section or even an entire text (possible in the case of the shorter ones). Assignment: Write an essay in which you situate your own viewpoint in relation to this class discussion--one in which you attempt to show the class another, better way of reading this text. How does reading this particular text from your angle change what that text means or can mean? For example, perhaps we have failed in discussion to notice key formal or political aspects of a novel or essay; by exploring these aspects, how does this change what the text can signify? How does it alter the meaning that we can make out of the text? You may use responses and discussions from the class listserver as well as class discussions for this assignment."

                 This assignment is designed to make you identify a discussion that is already--or has already--taken place and to situate your own interpretation and argument in relation to that discussion. The goal of your essay, then, should be to intervene in our discussion--to describe that critical conversation, to explain (in relation to it) what you want us to see, and then to show us how to see it and argue why you want us to see it. Your Essay should at least do the following:

(1) Describe what particular class conversation to which you are responding. You need especially to explain what blind spot or deficiency in that critical conversation that you are seeking to address and transform;

(2) Analyze in detail the aspect of, approach to, or angle on, the text that you are interested in, spending time demonstrating how it works and what its larger function is within the text;

(3) Demonstrate how your analysis illuminates the text and forces us to change our stance on the text or this issue; in other words, you will need to spend your last several paragraphs explaining how your analysis challenges the meanings that we produced in our class discussion, and even transforms it. This means that you will need to justify the value of your insights. Regarding (3), you may wish to think of the assignment in this way: if you are going to force your readers to slog through a couple of thousand words of your analysis--not unlike climbing a steep hill--there'd better be a pretty good view at the top of that hill. You are addressing readers who have read your text and see it in a certain way; your job is to show us another, equally interesting, way of seeing the text. What does your analysis illuminate that we couldn't see before, and why do you think that this is ultimately an interesting or valuable thing to see?


The Second Essay: This should be approximately 2500-3000 words (8-10 pp.), and should examine how legal issues involving women present themselves in either a book or a film. You should discuss and clear your topic with either of us before embarking upon it.