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Gender, Sexuality, and Literature: Women in Fiction

ENGL 090.401
MW 3:30-5

We’ll read novels and short stories, watch a film or two, and read some poems, all of which will help us explore the question:  who tells us how to behave, and why? 

The metaphor, and the historical reality, of the conduct book will connect the various works of fiction, all of which show girls and women trying to find their own paths through growing up and into adult life.  

We’ll begin with two canonical – and delightful! – texts, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jane Austen’s Persuasion. We’ll look at contemporary accounts of childhood in Ella Leffland’s Rumors of Peace, Jeanette Winterston’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Marilynn Robinson’s Housekeeping and stories by Toni Cade Bambara. We’ll continue with accounts of adulthood and marriage with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Pearl Abraham’s The Romance Reader, and stories by Edna O’Brien and Alice Munro. In each, we’ll examine codes of behavior and patterns of control, and the characters’ resistance to them. Finally, we’ll look at fairy tale and myth for some alternate possibilities. We’ll also read from a collection of essays that will provide theoretical background on classic questions of gender.

Writing assignments will include brief comments on each text, plus a midterm exam and a final paper. We’ll use the comments to spark discussion.  

Please feel free to email me ( with questions.  This course fulfills the English major’s Sector II requirement, Language, Literature and Culture.