How might a person’s sexual life be understood as an effect of language? Could gender be not simply a biological fact but also a narrative that we (or others) tell about ourselves? This course will examine a tradition of literary and theoretical writings that are guided by these questions, and we will organize our inquiry around the work and life of one of the most influential writers on the subject—Virginia Woolf. We will ask how Woolf’s novels and essays challenged normative ways of being in the world and illuminated the discursive techniques by which normativity is enforced. We will also examine works by Woolf’s fellow-travelers in London’s famous Bloomsbury group, such as E.M. Forster and Vita Sackville-West, whose novels also addressed the painful prohibitions on “improper” desire. Finally, we will consider the persistence of Woolf’s legacy in recent fiction and in contemporary feminist and queer theory, including works by Michael Cunningham, Jeanette Winterson, Eve Sedgwick, Judith Butler, and D.A. Miller. Requirements will include several short papers and one longer research paper.