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Women in Early Spy Fiction

ENGL 200.306
TR 10:30-12pm


This course will focus on the history of spy fiction and its staging of volatile political intrigues through women. Starting from the late seventeenth-century, with works such as Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, and Daniel Defoe’s Roxana, this class will explore the formal features that define spy fiction as a genre of literature. In particular we will focus on the place of gender and sexuality in this genre, examining why women were consistently featured at the center of court intrigues, as well as tales of travel and empire.


We will put these early stories in conversation with more modern tales of espionage in novels and other media, such as film and video games. Some examples from film include North by Northwest (1959) and La femme Nikita (1990). In video games, we will explore the stealth genre, as seen in the Dishonored franchise and many others. We will also consider how and why early spy fiction’s obsession with women and empire endures in these later stories. Possible assignments include keyword exercises and short analyses of eighteenth-century paintings. For their final projects, students can choose between a 10-15 page critical research paper or a creative writing assignment (must be approved by instructor).


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