English 214: 19th c. U.S. Women Writers
Texts and MaterialsNorton, Mary Beth, and Ruth M. Alexander, eds. Major Problems in American Women's History. 2nd ed.Suggestions for Further Reading and Links to Related Sites.
Fanny Fern. Ruth Hall.
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Harriet Jacobs. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Kate Chopin. The Awakening.
Xeroxed packets of short fiction and miscellanea.
This course is an introduction to nineteenth century U.S. literature written by women. The course emphasizes fiction, but the reading list includes poetry, autobiography, essays, diaries, and other written materials. The course is organized thematically around major problems in American women's history. We will explore the contribution of literary studies to our understanding of the past and the relationships between literary questions and historical ones. Topics include the social construction of gender, the participation of writers and readers in processes of social change, the cultural work of texts, and literary activism.
The course materials reflect multicultural interests. Although white, middle-class, Protestant writers from New England dominated aspects of the publishing industry, they did not monopolize it. "Women writers"--in the nineteenth century, as today--are a diverse group of persons. Consequently, the authors on the syllabus represent a variety of class, sexual, regional, racial, ethnic, and religious identities.
- To read closely selected classics of 19th c. U.S. women's literature.
- To explore how race, class, and gender influence literary production and interpretation.
- To consider how literary studies can contribute to new understandings of the past.
- To become familiar with genres, forms, conventions, and other special uses of language in 19th c. literature.
- To understand differences between nineteenth and twentieth century constructions of gender.
- To practice the skills of critical reading, intelligent discussion, research, and expository writing.
This class centers on discussion. Lectures, when given at all, will be brief and informal. Occasionally we will view films in class. Depending on the choices you make concerning the final project, you may work collaboratively in a small group outside of class: otherwise, all work is individual.
We will not discuss every reading assignment at equal length in class, nor will lectures recapitulate the readings. Reading and class attendance do not substitute for one another. Students are expected to come to class having done the reading and writing assignments and prepared to contribute to discussion.
This is not a W-class. Students will write (after reading, discussion, and research), but writing as a process will not be taught, rough drafts will not be peer edited in class, and so on. For students wishing to work on their writing skills, individual help is available from me during my office hours, as well as from the Writing Center.
Assignments and Evaluation
Attendance and Participation will count toward the final grade.
Weekly Questions are an important assignment for this class, given the centrality of discussion. Once each week, students will prepare a question about some aspect of the materials under discussion. This assignment is designed to let me know that you are keeping up with the readings and learning to engage texts critically and actively. I also hope you will learn how scholarly writing is motivated by questions. I will collect questions before class when discussions are scheduled. Twice (at mid-term and the end of the semester), students will resubmit their work in a well-organized packet, including a cover sheet (distributed later).
Quizzes. In lieu of a final exam, students will write 3 brief (7-10 pp.) take-home essays, structured around questions raised in Norton and Alexander's Major Problems in American Women's History. A handout will be given on each essay at the appropriate time, but the general questions to engage are how literary criticism contributes to an understanding of the problem being considered and what insights into the problem can be gained by a close reading of one or more literary texts. Although your approach to the quizzes will be structured by me, you do have considerable freedom in shaping your response (eg, narrowing the topic, and deciding which texts to engage).
The final grade will be distributed as follows:
- Attendance and Participation 20%
- Weekly Questions 20%
- Quizzes (3 at 20%) 60%
Schedule of Readings and ActivitiesWeek 1: Aug. 28
- Introduction to the Course
The Cult of DomesticityWeeks 2-4: Sept. 2-4-9-11-16
The Lives of Enslaved Women
- Read: Norton and Alexander; Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, "The Angel Over the Right Shoulder" (1852); Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Poet"; Harriet Spofford, "Circumstance" (1860); Poems by Frances Harper; Louisa May Alcott, "Transcendental Wild Oats" (1874); Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall.
Weeks 4-8: Sept. 18-23-25-30 and Oct. 2-7-9-14
- Read: Norton and Alexander; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852); Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
- Due Oct. 9: Packet of questions for first half of semester
- Due Oct. 16: Quiz 1
Varieties of Nineteenth-Century Activism
Weeks 8-10: Oct. 16-23-28
- Read: Norton and Alexander; Lydia Maria Child, selections from Letters from New York (1844); Rebecca Harding Davis, "Life in the Iron Mills" (1861); Frances Harper, "The Two Offers" (1859); Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892); Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" (1883).
Week 9: No Class -- Fall Recess Oct. 21
Women in the Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century West
Weeks 10-11: Oct 30 and Nov. 4-6
- Read: Norton and Alexander; Caroline Kirkland, from A New Home: Who Will Follow?; Kate Cleary, selections; Sui Sin Far, "Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian" (1909), "In the Land of the Free," and other selections from Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1909; 1912); Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonin), "The School Days of an Indian Girl" (1900)
- Due Nov. 13: Quiz 2
Weeks 12-13: Nov. 11-13-18-20
Week 14: Nov. 27 No Class -- Thanksgiving Recess
- Read: Norton and Alexander; Mary E. W. Freeman, "Louisa" (1859), "A New England Nun"; African American blues lyrics; Harriet Prescott Spofford, "Her Story"; Sarah Orne Jewett, "Tom's Husband", "A White Heron" (1886); Josephine Donovan, "Annie Fields"; Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, "Two Friends" (1887); Henry James, "Daisy Miller"
The 'New Woman': Suffrage and Social ReformWeeks 14-15: Nov. 25 and Dec. 2-4
Week 16: Dec. 10
- Read: Norton and Alexander; Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Quiz 3 is due at the time specified by the registrar's office for this class's exam period.
- Course Evaluations; Wrap Up.
- Due: Packet of questions for second half of semester
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