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ENGL 7790: Literary Theory: Issues & Approaches
Spring 2016

Dr. Paula R. Backscheider
9082 Haley Center
(334) 844-9091

Feminist Theory

This seminar is devoted to the methodologies that are essential for feminist literary critics. We will begin working our way through tactics of recovery such as verifying basic biographical information; identifying what the woman wrote; and constructing a reception history. These are, of course, skills that all literary, biographical and historical scholars and critics use; they are, however, often more challenging and, therefore, educational when applied to women writers. In the second part of the seminar we will turn to practicing some of the major methods that feminist critics use including two that are cutting edge. Among them will be gaps and silences; gendered coding; the sex-gender system; and representation politics. Emphasis will be on practicing methodologies. We will use texts by several women writers for practice of methods, and seminar members will specialize in a woman poet, playwright or novelist. Readings will include applied and theoretical essays.


Active discussions, short assignments that practice methodologies, and a final seminar paper that has developed from the short assignments.

Required Texts:

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (978-0-292-72445-7)

Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman (978-0-19-923-872-9)

John Berger, Ways of Seeing (978-0-140-135152)

Edith Wharton, House of Mirth (978-0-393-95901-7)

Eliza Haywood, History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, ed. Christine Blouch (9781551111476)

*Indicates the reading is on Canvas.


19: Introduction. Selection of your woman.

26: Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing; *Sharon Marcus, "Feminist Criticism: A Tale of Two Bodies."

Recovering, Editing and Reinterpreting Women's Lives and Texts


2: Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir, introductions, chapters 1 and 2; *Cheryl Nixon, "Ann Radcliffe's Commonplace Book: Assembling the Female Body and the Material Text"; *Anne Milne, "The Place of the Poet in Place: Reading Local Culture in the Work of Mary Leapor."

9: *Eliza Haywood, "Fantomina"; *Kathryn King, "Elizabeth Singer Rowe's Tactical Use of Print and Manuscript"; *Kerri Andrews, "Ann Yearsley and the London Newspapers in 1787." Biographical Sketch with List of Publications due.

16: Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir, chapter 3; *Devoney Looser, "Jane Porter and the Old Woman Writer's Quest for Financial Independence"; *Annette Kolodny, "Dancing through the Minefield."Edited poem due.

23: The Sex-Gender System. *Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex"; *Teresa de Lauretis, "The Technology of Gender"; *Susan Bordo, From Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and Body.

Essential Theories: Crossing Over


1: Patriarchy. *Michael McKeon, "Historicizing Patriarchy"; John Berger, Ways of Seeing, chapters 1, 2, 3; *Susan Lanser, "Sapphic Picaresque, Sexual Difference and the Challenges of Homo-adventuring." Reception History due.

8: The Other. Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir, excerpts of Chapter 5, pp. 145-53, 164-67, and Chapter 6, pp. 175-76; *Homi Bhabha, "Introduction" to The Locations of Culture; *definitions from 2 reference books.

Spring Break

Some Major Methods

22: Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth.

29: The Gaze Today. *Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"; *Linda Williams, "When the Woman Looks"; *Kenneth MacKinnon, Chapter 4 from Love, Tears, and the Male Spectator; *Mieke Bal, "The Politics of Citation," pp. 25-26.


5: *Rudolf Arnheim, "Margins and Centers"; *from Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look, pp. 1-10, 22-25, 35-47, and Fig. 13-14; John Berger, Ways of Seeing, chapters 5 and 6.

12: Eliza Haywood, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless and Reports on special topics.

19: Subversiveness as feminist narrative strategies. Betsy Thoughtless continued. Reports on journals due.

26: What are feminists doing today? *Lara Cox, "Standing Up against the Rape Joke: Irony and Its Vicissitudes"; *Elizabeth Bohls, "At home with the 'blackies': Janet Shaw and Maria Nugent," chapter 5 of Slavery and the Politics of Place.


  1. Increase ability to perform the skills of literary scholars and critics.
  2. Develop the ability to recover, edit, and analyze texts by women writers.
  3. Increase understanding of feminist publishing in scholarly and theoretical journals.
  4. Increase understanding of today's feminist literary critical issues.
  5. Develop understanding of the impact of gender and reputation on the canon. 6. Increase problem-solving, speaking, reading, and analytical skills.