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Growing Up in Fiction: The Female Novel of Development

ENGL 490.640


Many classic novels ask the question “how should we live?”  The novels in this course ask “how do we grow up?”   We’ll begin with two classic novels that show young women making choices and finding that they are not allowed much choice:  Austen’s Persuasion and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. We’ll continue with a massive but marvelous novel, Middlemarch whose heroine’s growth is defined by her search to do the right thing.  We will not rush through; we’ll take our time and appreciate its intricate structures and passionate intelligence.


We’ll then move to the twentieth century to read novels that explore questions of obedience, loyalty, identity, control, duty, passion, sex, education – a very, very familiar list.  But each of these marvelous books shows a unique side of these questions. Other readings will include: 


Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, a gorgeous psychological novel of growing up,  for grown-ups.

Ella Leffland’s Rumors of Peace, which explores the effect of World War II on a very young girl.

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea which proposes a backstory for Bertha Mason, Jane Eyre’s “madwoman in the attic”.

Jeanette Winterson’s  Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,  which shows a young woman coming of age in a strict Christian community.

Pearl Abraham’s The Romance Reader, which shows a young girl growing up in a strict Hasidic community.

Marilynn Robinson’s Housekeeping, which asks us to think about the various forms of duty and family loyalty. 


With each text, we’ll read one significant piece of theoretical writing that will provide a specific framework for discussion and, in the end, will give us a significant slice of feminist literary theory. 

Because many of these books are long, the weekly writing assignments will be short:  half-page questions designed to encourage discussion.  There will be a longer final paper, based on a very focused research question.  This paper will be developed over the course of the semester, with help from the library’s research staff. 


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