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ENGL 7800: Feminist Approaches to Literature
Fall 2012

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

Required Texts:

  • How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ (University of Texas, 1983). ISBN 978-0-292-72445-7
  • Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman by Toril Moi (Oxford, 2009). ISBN 978-0-19-923872-9
  • Feminist Literary Theory and Criticism: A Norton Reader, ed. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (Norton, 2007). ISBN 978-0-393-9270-0
  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger (Penguin, 1990). ISBN 978-0-140-135152
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Norton, 1990). ISBN 978-0-393-95901-7

Course Description:

Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the Use. –Wittgenstein
We must endlessly complicate before we can understand a thing in all its simplicity. – Geertz

We will begin the seminar by working our way through the process that feminist scholars and critics employ. For example, verifying basic biographical information; identifying what the woman wrote; 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 half of the seminar we will turn to practicing some of the major methods that feminist critics use. Among them will be gaps and silences; gendered reading; the sex-gender system; and representation politics. Sarah Prescott, who has published extensively on early women writers and is writing a book on eighteenth-century Welsh women writers, will be visiting the seminar. She is from the University of Aberystwyth. 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. There will be applied and theoretical essays.


Active discussion, assignments that practice methodologies, and a final paper that has developed through the assignments.


August 21: Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

Recovering, Editing and Reinterpreting Women’s Lives and Texts

28: Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir, Chapters 1 and 2; *Sue Churchill, “I Then Was What I Had Made Myself”; *Adrienne Rich, “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson” from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence.

September 4: *Eliza Haywood, “Fantomina”; *Elizabeth Carter, “While Clear the Night” and “To [Dr. Walwyn] On his Design of cutting down a Shady Walk”; *excerpt from “Disputed Value”: *Kathryn King, “Elizabeth Singer Rowe’s Tactical Use of Print and Manuscript.” Biographical Sketch Due.

11: 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.

18: Visit by Professor Sarah Prescott from Aberystwyth University. ~ Sarah Prescott, "The Cambrian Muse: Welsh Identity and Hanoverian Loyalty in the Poems of Jane Brereton (1685-1740)" Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Summer, 2005), pp. 587-603; ^Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929), chapter 3 'Shakespeare's Sister'; *Margaret J. M. Ezell, "Introduction: Patterns of Inquiry" in Writing Women's Literary History, pp. 1-13; #Jane Brereton, "On Reading some Dissertations in the Reverend Dr Foulkes Modern Antiquities" and "To Nehemiah Griffith Esq.; Author of the Leek" in Poems on several occasions: by Mrs Jane Brereton. With letters to her friends, and an account of her life. (1744).

25: :#Elizabeth Inchbald, Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are; *Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the `Political Economy’ of Sex” with discussions of the cuts to this essay in the +Gilbert-Gubar anthology.

Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater. …. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. – Virginia Woolf

Persistent Issues

October 2: *Michael McKeon, “Historicizing Patriarchy”; *Susan Lanser, “Sapphic Picaresque, Sexual Difference and the Challenges of Homo-adventuring”; *Adrienne Rich, “What Does a Woman Need to Know?” Reception history due.

9: +Susan Bordo, “From Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and Body”; +Simone de Beauvoir, “From The Second Sex; Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir, chapters 5 and 6.

16: Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth.

Major Methods

23: *Rudolf Arnheim, “Centers as Hubs”; John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Essays 1, 2 , 3, 5. Reports on journals due.

30: *Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”; *Linda Williams, “When the Woman Looks”; *Kenneth MacKinnon, chapter 4 from Love, Tears, and the Male Spectator; *from Mieke Bal, “the Politics of Citation,” pp. 25-26; and ^*from Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look, pp. 1-10, 22-25, 35-47 and Fig. 13-14.

Nov. 6: #Jane Barker, Love Intrigues (1713 edition); *Cheryl Glenn, Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence, pp. 13-19, *King-Kok Cheung, Articulate Silences, pp. 4-5, 14-15; *Tillie Olsen, “Silences,” pp. 6-21 of Silences (optional); *Judith Fetterley, “Reading about Reading: 'A Jury of her Peers,' `The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' and `The Yellow Wallpaper'” from Gender and Reading.

13: +Audre Lorde, “Poetry is not a Luxury” and “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”; *Joan Radner and Susan Lanser, “Strategies of Coding in Women’s Cultures”; +Elaine Showalter, “Women’s Writing and Women’s Language” from “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness,” pp. 534-44; *Patricia Laurence, “Women’s Silence as a Ritual of Truth: A study of Literary Expressions in Austen, Brontë, and Woolf” from Listening to Silences.

27: + Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”; *Teresa de Lauretis, “The Technology of Gender”; Toril Moi, Simone de Beauvoir, chapter 7.


* On Canvas
+ In anthology, Feminist Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
^ On reserve in the library

~ On Project Muse