ENGL 3267 Women Writers
Grace Rexroth, PhD Candidate
About the Course:
Writing in 1967, Ralph Ellison claimed that “all novels of a given historical moment form an argument over the nature of reality and are, to an extent, criticisms of each other.” Revising Ellison’s view several decades later, Jhumpa Lahiri declared, “Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to arrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself.” In both views, what writers—especially novelists—really offer the world are competing ideas about what that world is and perhaps, more importantly, what it can be.
Yet, as Brit Marling notes in her recent New York Times Op-Ed article, “I Don’t Want to be a Woman in a Lead Role,” such writerly visions often occlude or greatly distort the position of women. Writing specifically about her experiences in Hollywood, Marling claims that our cultural ideas about what women are—what they should look like, how they should behave, the forms of power they should aspire to—have often been written and shaped by men. And yet, as we will discover in this class, women writers have been struggling for hundreds of years to share their own literary visions of the world. Again and again, women have written their own stories, worked to find publishers and an audience, and are still, even now, asking us to listen to them.
Over the course of this semester we will examine how women from different eras have produced literature—including plays, novels, poetry, political essays, and short stories—the myriad ways that they have struggled to reconceive and rearrange, as Lahiri puts it, “nothing short of reality itself.” Taking a cue from Marling, this class will ask: what does it mean to cast a woman in a lead role? How has female authority been imagined and reimagined—and to what end? What are the key debates about female power that are shaping our own lives and stories now? Which women get to write? Which women are we taught to pay attention to and why?
Students who actively participate in the class and complete all assignments on time will be able to perform the following tasks by the end of the course:
- Gain an initial exposure to a number of literary works composed by and about women
- Demonstrate comprehension of the historical circumstances in which each work was produced, from the eighteenth-century to the present
- Identify and describe characters, plots, significant passages, and themes in selected works
- Develop and use a vocabulary of literary terms and concepts to describe the aesthetic form or historical context of a given work
- Apply techniques of close reading to texts to be able to identify, define, and discuss genre, poetic language, poetic form, tone, audience, allusions, imagery, rhetorical devices, etc.
- Demonstrate comprehension of major feminist scholarship influencing the way we read texts written by and about women
- Formulate an interpretative thesis and defend it with analysis of textual evidence, as demonstrated in frequent writing assignments (discussion posts and papers)
- Distill the breadth of class discussion, lecture material, and literary musing into concise, focused, and formal prose pieces of literary analysis
Overall, my aim for this course is to improve your critical reading, thinking, and writing skills.
- Critical reading is the ability to recognize literary devices, such as allusions, underlying assumptions, subtle implications, and meaningful omissions in a particular text.
- Critical thinking is the ability to analyze the significance of literary devices, and includes assessing the relationship between a text and the cultural and historical period in which it was written.
- Critical writing is the ability to successfully articulate an analysis, explaining how it leads to a particular interpretation of a text. An effective critical analysis provides textual evidence to support a particular interpretation of a text.
Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Penguin Classics (1801), 2001.
Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower. Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993.
Dumont, Marilyn. A Really Good Brown Girl. Brick Books, 1996.
Rooney, Sally. Conversations Between Friends. Hogarth, 2017.
Grading (out of 1000 points):