English 653

ENGL 653
Studies in Women's Literature

Catalog Entry

ENGL 653. Studies in Women's Literature
Three hours lecture (3).

The purpose of this course is to study the distinctive literary heritage shared by women writers in England and North America to ground students in feminist literary critical theories and practices (including feminist applications of psychoanalytic, marxist, deconstructive, and new historicist theories).


Detailed Description and Content of Course

The course examines distinctive traditions of women's literature in England and North America in the light of contemporary feminist critical theory. Though specific texts selected for study may vary with each offering of the course, selections will reflect an attentiveness to differences of race, class, and sexual orientation in order to discern the variety of women's experiences and a range of textual practices within a multifaceted female literary tradition in English. The course may study such women writers as: Aemelia Lanier, Mary Sidney, Anne Finch, Anne Bradstreet, Phyllis Wheatley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Rebecca Harding Davis, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, H. D., Djuna Barnes, Tillie Olsen, Ann Petry, Wilma Dykeman, Hariette Arnow, Gloria Naylor, Toni Morrison, Paula Gunn Allen, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jeanette Winterson, Rita Mae Brown, and others. Course content will include not only literary works but also major works of Anglo-American and French feminist theorists such as: Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, Elaine Showalter, Nancy Miller, Mary Jacobus, Ann Rosalind Jones, Coppelia Kahn, Gayle Greene, Lillian Faderman, Adrienne Rich, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Jane Gallup, Nancy Chodorow, Elaine Marks, Simone de Beauvoir, Catherine Clement, Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous, Shoshana Felman, Luce Irigaray, Annie LeClerc, Rachael Blau DuPlessis, Michelle Barrett, and the Marxist-Feminist Literature Collective. Selection of specific literary and theoretical texts varies at the discretion of the instructor teaching the course. In general, the content includes:

(a) study of selected writings of British and North American women writers;
(b) study of current post-structuralist feminist literary theories such as psychoanalytic, marxist, and new historicist feminisms;
(c) study of the practical application of these theories to literary texts;
(d) in-class instruction and collaboration to support independent work on research projects selected by students with the intention of submitting a scholarly piece to a journal or professional conference.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

The course may use a variety of teaching strategies and learning activities, using reading, speaking, and writing, in order to achieve its goals. Initially, students may engage in such activities as small-group work, large group discussions, lecture/discussions, and panel presentations on individual literary and theoretical texts in order to lay the requisite theoretical groundwork and develop the appropriate reading strategies for use in the extended research project. As the course progresses, the format may shift to a seminar, during which students can present their findings at various stages of their research projects, culminating in the presentations of their final scholarly pieces to the class in preparation for publication or presentation at a professional conference. Students may use informal, reflective writing and more formal analytic writing to make meaning both of the literary and theoretical texts studied and of the scholarly research they pursue. To facilitate learning, the course may adopt a number of teaching and learning activities, which may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Reader's Log:

  • Students may use informal, reflective writing to analyze texts and to respond personally to their reading, linking the readings to their own experiences as they make meaning of the literature and theory studied in the course.
  • Students may use logs to develop new reading strategies advanced in the theoretical pieces and to practice these strategies on the literary texts studied.

Panel Presentations or Projects:

  • Students may collaborate on projects to be presented to the whole class in order to examine individual literary or theoretical texts or to explore larger theoretical issues such as the intersection of gender, race, and class in women's writing; inscriptions of variant sexualities in women's writings; inscriptions of female desire in women's texts; representations of female experience in both the dominant and the female literary traditions.

Formal Writing:

  • Students may produce an extended annotated bibliography of their scholarly research in preparation for the writing of the final scholarly piece.
  • Students may produce a bibliographic essay analyzing the state of the scholarship on the particular subject of their scholarly project.

Final Scholarly Piece:

  • Students will produce a final scholarly paper, reflecting a full semester of research and writing on a subject of their own choosing, the intended audience for which will be a scholarly community. Students will be encouraged to submit such work for publication in professional journals or for presentation at professional conferences.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

The goals of this course are (1) to study the distinctive literary heritage shared by women writers in England and North America; (2) to ground students solidly in feminist literary critical theories and practices (including feminist applications of psychoanalytic, marxist, deconstructive, and new historicist theory); (3) to explore issues pertinent to the study of women's writing: women's relationship to a dominant literary tradition, representations of female experience in both the dominant and the female tradition, gender and genre, and female creativity; (4) to enable students to work from a firmly grounded critical perspective in their research and writing in order to produce a scholarly piece for submission to a professional journal or conference (5) to enable those students interested in pursuing the Master of Arts degree to begin scholarly work on a project that may be extended for the thesis.


Assessment Measures

Knowledge of a varied female literary tradition and of the theory that illuminates these texts may be measured by a number of assessment devices that may include the following:

  • informal writing to make meaning of texts; formal, revised and edited writing to synthesize thinking about texts and theory; oral presentations and/or panel presentations; self-assessment of small group discussions on issues central to the course; essay examinations, either in-class or take home, to synthesize course material.
  • The student's ability to engage in meaningful independent research may be assessed in a number of ways including, preparation of an annotated bibliography, preparation of a bibliographic essay, or participation in seminar presentations on individual research.
  • The student's ability to present the findings of such independent research to a community of scholars will be measured by the preparation of a formal, scholarly paper in which the student will develop an original insight into or perspective on a significant question related to the study of women's literature or a specific woman writer.


Other Course Information



Review and Approval

March 1999