English | Women and Literature
L207 | 2189 | Cherniavsky

Women and Literature

11:15a-12:30p TR (30) 3 CR.

This course on Women and Literature will be structured around the
topic of separate spheres: this term refers to the division in
modern life between the public and the private realms, between the
sphere of work (production), education, mass media, and civic
activity, on the one hand, and the sphere of home, emotional self-
cultivation, family relations, and reproduction, on the other.  Many
observers of contemporary culture have argued that this division, so
central to the organization of life under industrial capitalism, no
longer makes much sense in the present moment, where the space of
the home has been so thoroughly invaded (by mass media; by
freelancing and other forms of home-based work) and the space of
public life is so saturated with private experience (the
professionalization of services relating to emotional well-being and
family maintenance; fixation on the private lives of celebrities).
When we ask after the coherence of this distinction in the present,
however, it seems important to ask how coherently this distinction
has regulated individual and group life in the past.  Focusing on
selected works of nineteenth- and twentieth-century women’s fiction,
we will consider how the ordering of social reality into separate
spheres has governed the practice and the reception of these
texts.   Because the public/private division is so thoroughly
gendered (with men presiding over realm of work and civic life,
women over family and intimate relations); because the very status
of women writers as published authors and hence public figures
undermined assumptions about “women’s place,” women’s writing offers
especially fertile ground for evaluating the effects and the limits
of the public/private binary.

Primary reading for the course may include Charlotte Bronte, Jane
Eyre; Fanny Fern (Sarah Willis Parton), Leaves From Fanny’s
Portfolio; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl;
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland; Gertrude Stein, Three Lives;
Fannie Hurst, Imitation of Life; Ann Petry, The Street; Marilynne
Robinson, Housekeeping; Ana Castillo, So Far From God.