Women have been writing up a storm in the twenty-first century, sharing ideas, sufferings, and joys with their increasingly diverse audiences. Contemporary Women’s Fiction explores some of these current literary trends in women’s writing, seeking to identify shared threads of experience, style, and thematic approach in a diverse and interesting set of texts from the twenty-first century. What are some of the common stakes and interests in contemporary women’s authorship? How do differences in nationality, race, and religion shape women’s experiences? In this course, we will read novels (including one memoir) by American, Canadian, British, Nigerian, and Iranian female authors, plotting a map of women’s contemporary expression. Course texts, in order: • Ann Patchett, "Bel Canto" (2001) Extra Credit: United States vs. Hearst (trial transcript) • Zadie Smith, "White Teeth" (2000) • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Half of a Yellow Sun" (2006) Extra Credit: Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists” • Azar Nafisi, "Reading Lolita in Tehran" (2013) • Margaret Atwood, "Hag-Seed" (2016) Extra Credit: Shakespeare, "The Tempest" • Louise Erdrich, "LaRose" (2016)
This class will draw heavily from Kate’s collection of video tapes, especially those made by the BBC in the 1980’s called "Playing Shakespeare". Hosted by John Barton, these tapes are a series of master classes showing John working with great actors on how to bring the Shakespeare texts to life. The actors include Patrick Stewart, David Suchet (of Poirot fame), Peggy Ashcroft, Ian McKellen, and other great 20th century British actors. Films of Shakespearean plays will illuminate the vocal and acting techniques illustrated in the master classes: Olivier’s "Henry V", "Richard III", "Othello", "King Lear" and "Merchant of Venice"; Branagh’s "Henry V", "Much Ado About Nothing", "Hamlet", and "Love’s Labour’s Lost"; McKellen’s "Richard III", Derek Jacobi’s "Richard II" all will be seen as examples of the art of Shakespearean acting. Students are encouraged to buy a copy of John Barton’s "Playing Shakespeare", the book which accompanies the video tapes.
George Eliot’s "Middlemarch", Tolstoy’s "Anna Karenina", and Henry James’s "The Portrait of a Lady" all have historically appropriate heroines but very different narrative styles. Eliot often seems to write from a pulpit, issuing judgments commensurate with our sense of Victorian morality. Tolstoy’s alternation of relatively short chapters and his belief that our behavior is more physiological than international gives his narrative the difficult feeling that cause and effect are sometimes hardly related, which makes morality problematic. James is as impersonal as a nineteenth-century narrator can be. His characters sometimes seem opaque within their own consciousness and we are left on our own to make any final judgments. James’s ending is quite open; Eliot’s is firmly closed; and Tolstoy’s are both. And this tells the story of the nineteenth century novel’s turn to modernism. All three novels come in Penguin editions. We will start with Eliot.
When we think of the American West, we tend to envision tough, independent, standoffish men, such as sheriffs and outlaws, cowboys and ranchers, roaming across wild desert and mountain landscapes on horseback. Where do women reside in our collective imagination of such a West? Usually, they are being rescued by these men or are assigned the task of taming these frontier landscapes from within the built space of the home. In this class, we will be examining the hardships, hopes, and homes of the “American West” through the eyes, voices, and memories of women. To this end, we will study one film, memoirs, biographical fiction, and poetry—for how they create and complicate our ideas of the nineteenth-century and present-day West. Women in the West have always been a formidable force for personal and social change.