This course examines narrative writing by women in the United States from its inception to the early 20th century. Its primary focus is writing by women which has conceptualized alternative visions of the nation and its history. To this end, we will look at fiction and personal narrative which criticizes the social position not only of women, but of African-Americans and native Americans as well. We’ll also look specifically at some early writing by African-American women, and study how their work both responds to and proposes alternatives to contemporary texts by Euro-Americans. Some of the questions we’ll ask throughout the course will include: what does it mean to call a text a piece of women’s writing? What did it mean then? What are the possible pitfalls of such a category? Why have female authors played a crucial role in bringing the body, sexuality, and emotion into play in reading and writing? How does one negotiate conventions of propriety to write about sexuality? How are attributes commonly vaunted as “American”—free-spiritedness, practicality, ambition, individualism at the expense of community—represented both critically and approvingly in 19th-century American women’s writing?
Readings (may change slightly):
Susannah Rowson, The Coquette
Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie
Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok
Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Frances Harper, Iola Leroy
Zitkala-Sa, Memories of an Indian Childhood
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Gertrude Stein, Three Lives
Consistent class participation (and attendance).
Three papers of 4-6 pp.
Weekly journal entries, posted to the web.
A class presentation/discussion incitement.