the awakening conscience - Wm. H. Hunt

Illinois State University

English 260:

The History of Literature by Women
Section 1, T-Th 12:35-1:50
Autumn 1994

Prof. Julie Shaffer

Office: STV 413U
Office Hours: TR 2:00-3:30
Office Phone: 438-2364

Course Description; Texts; Assignments and Rules; Packet Contents

In this course, we will survey the history of literature by women by looking at texts by some of the major writers of their eras, from Aphra Behn, first professional woman writers of literary texts, to Gloria Naylor, contemporary African-American novelist. We will examine a variety of literary genres by women - poetry, stories, and novels. In addition, we will be focusing on a specific topic as we read these texts, Textual Constructions of Femininity and Female Identity. While we will be focusing primarily on works in a variety of genres by women, we will also be looking at conduct books, treatises on the proper education for girls and on women's "real nature," novels, other essays, and one play by a man - Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. We will focus on ways women-penned texts participate with other cultural texts in constructing the category of female identity and on the ways women's texts react to previous constructions of accepted versions of proper femininity and female identity, challenging or enlarging on such constructions. To some extent, we'll discuss the ways these textual constructions intersect with consensual and individual beliefs - the attitudes we ourselves bring to the class - but this will not comprise the main focus of the course. Our point here is to get an overview of the history of women's writing, to learn conventions of reading and discussing literature, and to develop the means of recognizing the ways in which texts construct what elsewhere may get accepted as natural, as reality - the way literature and culture, or lived lives, intersect. Because the question of female identity overlaps with questions of class and race, we will discuss these complications of the issue of "natural" femininity. We will be doing a lot of reading and writing and I will expect you to keep up. You will also be expected participate in discussion; doing so will comprise a percentage of your grade.

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Packet, available at PIP in the Bone Center (contents listed below)
Aphra Behn, The Rover
Frances Burney, Evelina
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Gloria Naylor, The Women of Brewster Place


Elizabeth McMahan et al, The Elements of Writing about Literature and Film

Supplementary works will be on reserve at Milner library. You may find them helpful for your presentations and/or papers (see assignments, below). I may at times require you to read something on reserve.

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Assignments and Grades: Your grade will be based on participation, on written work performed in class, on analytic and research-based papers written outside of class, on any group work I may give in class, and on a final, if I assign one. I will assign 3 papers. You will each also be required to give a presentation on one of the major works we'll be discussing. 

Attendance and Paper Policies: We will follow a modified version of the English Department's policy on attendance. According to that policy, you may take a total of one week's worth of excused absences, but once your absences have exceeded two weeks' class meetings, your grades suffer. In this class, I will not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences; once your absences exceed 2 weeks of class meetings, no matter what the excuse, your grade will fall one-half letter grade for each additional absence. Once your absences exceed 3 weeks of class meetings - 6 absences - your grade will drop to fail. Very late arrivals and very early departures will be counted as absences, as will your coming to class unable to add to discussion from utter unpreparedness - from not having read the text, for example. Keep in mind that if you are absent on days on which we are writing essays in class or doing group work, in addition to being marked absent, you will receive a fail for those grades. In-class writing and discussion cannot be made up. Other assignments handed in late will also adversely affect your grade, unless you have discussed your need to hand a paper in late beforehand with me. Generally, papers handed in late will drop one full letter grade for each day they're late, and after one week, they will not be accepted. Plagiarism will result in a fail on the paper, a fail in the course, and action taken against you through the appropriate university channels. Newspaper reading, sleeping, and private conversation in class, along with any other rudenesses, will not be tolerated.

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Packet contents

Jonathan Swift

"The Furniture of a Woman's Mind"

"Strephon and Chloe"

"A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed"

Delariviere Manley

"The Wife's Resentment"

Group of Poems

E. St. Vincent Millay

"I, being born a woman"

Gwendolyn Brooks

"a song in the front yard"

Adrienne Rich

"Two Songs,"1964

from Vivien Jones, from Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity

Vivien Jones


George Savile, Marquis of Halifax

from The Lady's New Year's Gift

Wetenhall Wilkes

from A Letter of Genteel and Moral Advice to a Young Lady


from The Present State of Matrimony

Excerpts from other places:

Dr. John Gregory

from A Father's Legacy to His Daughters

J.-J. Rousseau

from Emile, or on Education

John Ruskin

"Of Queen's Gardens," from Sesame and Lilies

John Berger

from Ways of Seeing

Marge Piercy

"A Work of Artifice"

Nadine Gordimer

"The Train from Rhodesia"

Adrienne Rich


Gwendolyn Brooks

"A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi..."

Joanna Russ

"What Can a Heroine Do?"

R. Blau DuPlessis

from Writing Beyond the Ending

Judy Grahn

from "The Work of a Common Woman"

Rocky Gamez

from The Gloria Stories

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last updated 28 January 1999