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Unit information: Twentieth-Century Women Writers in 2015/16

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Unit name Twentieth-Century Women Writers
Unit code ENGL30105
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Kennedy-Epstein
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This course explores a range of work from 20th-century women poets, novelists, essayists, and theorists. The 20th century marked an enormous transformation in women’s lives—from access to education and birth-control, to political enfranchisement and sexual liberation. However, women’s experiences, and thus the texts that women produced, varied tremendously depending on each author’s race, class, and nationality, as well as the political and publishing climate of a given historical moment. Some of the works we will read were famous in their own time but fell out of print—lost for decades, only to be recovered by later generations of women writers. This inter-generational recuperation is a vital aspect of 20th-century women’s literature. The attention to the lost, buried, or silenced 'mother' helps makes the study of women’s literature unique, not only as a literary history, but as a foundation for feminist theory and gender studies. We will think about the relationship between writer and theorist, considering how many of the prominent authors we read have produced some of the most important feminist theories for analyzing women’s writing. Like the authors themselves, we will be attuned to both the formal aspects of the texts we read, as well as the theoretical, historical, and political forces that shaped their production.

The aims of this course are to enable students:

  • to become familiar with a wide range of twentieth-century writing by women
  • to explore a range of genres, for example, autobiography, utopian fiction
  • to become familiar with critical responses, feminist and other, to such writing
  • to think critically about the concept of 'women's writing'

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

(1) developed a detailed knowledge of a range of literary texts by women writing in the twentieth century;

(2) developed a critical understanding of the historical, political and literary contexts around the primary texts;

(3) acquired an understanding of major critical approaches to analysing twentieth-century women’s writing;

(4) demonstrated their ability to analyse and compare primary texts and critical sources;

(5) strengthened their skills in academic writing, argumentation, and evaluation of evidence from primary texts and critical literature.

Teaching Information

1 x 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Information

  • 1 essay of 2,000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3,000 words (60%)

The 2000 word essay assesses ILOs 1-3 and 5. The 3000 word essay assesses ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Catherine Belsey, The Feminist Reader

Elizabeth Bishop, Complete Poems

Barbara Gelpi (ed), Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose

Nella Larsen, Passing

Muriel Rukeyser, The Book of the Dead

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, Orlando

The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, ed. Gilbert and Gubar (Third Edition) is useful for reference and for wider reading.