English literature and Feminisms

English literature and Feminisms



English literature and Feminisms

EN 328 English Literature and Feminisms, 1790-1901

Dr Emma Francis

This course explores some aspects of the political and intellectual provenance of a range of 19th century feminisms and examines the impact of these debates upon English literary culture in the period. The course moves from a starting point of the feminisms produced by the battle between conservative and radical politics at the turn of the 19th century, through the feminisms of the mid-century, which looked to liberalism and related positions to legitimate their arguments, to the diversification of feminist debates through the lenses of Darwinism, socialism, new discourses about sexuality and discussions around the significance of the city at the end of the 19th century. The course will construct a dialogue between 19th century literary texts, 19th century feminist and anti-feminist discourses and the way in which this relationship has been understood in the late 20th and 21st centuries by historians, historiographers and literary critics. 

Course content:
a. Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary feminisms and their literatures, 1790-1830
b. Women’s poetry and woman’s mission: the woman writer’s ‘proper sphere’, 1802-65
c. Liberalism, Unitarianism and feminism: the limits of the novel, 1840-69
d. Walking in the city: socialism, science and sexual deviance, 1871-1899
e. The ‘New Woman’, 1890-1901   

The following texts should be purchased, preferably in the recommended editions.  All other set texts will be issued in copyright compliant xerox form.

Grant Allen, The Woman who Did [1895] (ed. Nicholas Ruddick, Broadview: 2004)
Charlotte Brontë, Villette [1853] (ed. Helen Cooper, Penguin: 2004)
George Eliot, Middlemarch [1867] (ed. Rosemary Ashton, Penguin: 2003)
Sigmund Freud, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’) [1901] - this book is currently out of print but Amazon has many cheap second-hand versions of the Rieff edition and others.
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South [1855] (ed. Patricia Ingram, Penguin: 1996)
George Gissing, The Odd Women [1893] (ed. Patricia Ingram, OUP: 2000)
Amy Levy, Reuben Sachs [1888] (ed. Susan Bernstein, Broadview: 2006)
Hannah More, Coelebs in Search of a Wife [1809] (Broadview: 2003)
John Stuart Mill, ‘On the Subjection of Women’ [1869] (Broadview: 2000)
Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm [1883] (ed. Joseph Bristow, OUP: 2008)
Germaine de Stael, Corinne, Or Italy [1802] (ed. Sylvia Raphael, OUP:1998)
Bram Stoker, Dracula [1897] (ed. Maud Ellmann, OUP: 1998)
Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman [1792] and Maria or the Wrongs of Woman [1798] (ed. Anne K. Mellor, Longman Cultural Editions: 2006)

Week 1 - Course aims and introduction: planning your year’s work


a. Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary feminisms and their literatures, 1790-1830

At the transition between the 18th and 19th centuries debates about the status and role of women were given inspiration and inflection by the political split created in British political culture by the French Revolution.  On the one hand, radical or revolutionary thinkers advocated the overthrow of social hierarchy, the equitable redistribution of wealth and other kinds of far-reaching social change. On the other, conservative or counterrevolutionary thinkers advocated the maintenance of hierarchical and paternalistic social structures, which, they argued, would provide protection for the weak in return for their acceptance of social and economic inequality. The two factions represented, respectively, ‘rights’ and ‘duties’ as the crucial means to establish and maintain a just and healthy society. The following 2 sessions examine the work of two women writers who took up positions on each side of the argument. Mary Wollstonecraft inserted her argument into the radical concept of the ‘rights of man’, arguing that women constituted a specific group whose ‘rights’ had to be delineated in a specific way. She used both polemic and novel form to explore this thesis.  Hannah More also used the novel form to explicate the conservative thesis that women had specific duties within society and that a certain kind of femininity was essential to the maintenance of social stability.  We will ask the question: in spite of their opposing political provenances, are their positions and poetics as distinct from each other as each would have liked them to be?

Week 2 - Rights and duties (1) feminism and radical politics
Text: Mary Wollstonecraft - Vindication of the Rights of Woman
- Maria, Or the Wrongs of Woman

Week 3 - Rights and duties (2) feminism and conservatism
Text: Hannah More, Coelebs in Search of a Wife


b. Women’s poetry and woman’s mission: the woman writer’s ‘proper sphere’, 1802-65

In the first half of the 19th century many poets and literary critics developed strong arguments for he specificity and importance of women’s poetry.  As we have seen, both radical and conservative thinkers deployed the argument that women had a specific social and moral mission.  This became mapped explicitly onto the notion of the mission of women’s poetry.  Poems were written which intervened explicitly into a variety of controversial contemporary issues.  In the first of these sessions we examine some writing around the campaigns for the abolition of slavery and the legislation around factory labour and explore the extent to which the poets linked their analysis of the position of women with other kinds of inequality.  Other writers concentrated on the development of the concept of the woman poet as intellectual, artist and civic icon. We read the most important inspiration for this, Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, Or Italy and some of the British poems it inspired.  The figure of the woman poet was an important cultural flashpoint for debates around woman’s role in the relation between the ‘private’ and the ‘public’ spheres.

Week 4 - Women’s poetry and woman’s mission
Text: Anna Laetitia Barbauld, ‘Epistle to William Wilberforce’
Hannah More, ‘The Sorrows of Yamba, or The Negro Woman’s Lamentation’
‘The Black Slave Trade’
Amelia Opie, ‘The Negro Boy’s Tale’
Janet Hamilton, ‘Civil War in America’
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’
‘The Cry of the Children’
Caroline Bowles, ‘Tales of the Factories’

Week 5 - The woman of genius
Text: Germaine de Staël, Corinne , Or Italy

Week 7 - Women of genius
Text: Letitia Landon, ‘The History of the Lyre’
Felicia Hemans ‘Corinne at the Capitol’

c. Liberalism, Unitarianism and feminism: the limits of the novel, 1840-69

During the mid-19th century feminism in Britain entered a new period of self-definition.  Specific analyses of the economic, social and political causes of women’s oppression and demands for their abolition were made. This was the period when women’s admission to full civil, political and economic status began to be a seriously and widely debated proposition.  Women writers turned to the classic narrative of bourgeois subjectivity and experience - the novel - to explore the precise dimensions of their inclusion and exclusion.  The problems and irresolutions of these texts are crucial indicators of how far the debate had come and of the contradictions in the different approaches to the problem.  During this period scrutiny of the institution of marriage became intense.  Liberal feminist thinkers began to offer explicit economic analysis of marriage, refusing the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres and demanding legal protection for married women and their property.  Marriage was also, scandalously, compared with the exchange of money for sex within prostitution

Week 8 - Liberalism, Unitarianism, the two nations and the separate spheres
Text: Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South

Week 9 - Gender and genre, the limits of the novel for the woman writer
Text: Charlotte Brontë, Villette


Week 10 - Sexual exchanges
Text: John Stuart Mill, ‘On the Subjection of Women’
Christina Rossetti, ‘Goblin Market’


d. Walking in the city: socialism, science and sexual deviance, 1871-1899

Whereas earlier in the 19th century feminism was inflected by radical, conservative and liberal positions and rhetoric, by the campaign for the abolition of slavery, concerns about the social effects of industrialization and the question of women’s access to bourgeois civic institutions, during the later decades of the century new political and cultural debates came to the fore which gave rise to new kinds of feminist argument.  We study the impact of the thought of Darwin and his cultural critics from the 1870s, the attempt to use the (social) Darwinian concepts of ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘extinction’ and ‘instinct’.  This implicated feminism with new discourses of ‘race’, ‘racial purity’ and ‘racial degeneration’ developing from readings of Darwin. At this time the strain which the ‘marriage plot’ had been under since the mid-century became especially acute.  Unequivocal and strident criticism of marriage and sometimes even of heterosexuality began to appear and alternative sexual identities - celibacy and same-sex passion - were explored. It was during this period that socialism began to have significant impact upon feminism. The political and literary careers of a range of feminists - Annie Besant, Clementina Black, Eleanor Marx, Beatrice Webb and Margaret Harkness - offer important points of divergence. The conflict between the strict scientific socialist analysis with which some attempted to inflect feminism and the utopian emphasis of others is indicative of the problems of the dialogue between socialism and feminism in this period.

Week 11 - Darwin’s plots
Text: George Eliot, Middlemarch

Week 12 - Woman and labour
Text: Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm

Week 13 - Feminism and semitic discourse
Text: Amy Levy, Reuben Sachs

‘Middle-class Jewish Women of To-Day’

Week 14 - Feminism and socialism
Text: Eleanor Marx, ‘Review Woman in the Past, Present and Future by August Bebel’,
Supplement to the Commonweal, August 1885’
Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling, ‘The Woman Question’
Margaret Harkness, Out of Work



e. The ‘New Woman’, 1890-1901

The final section of the course explores the figure of the ‘New Woman’, the image created and propagated across a variety of cultural and literary forms at the end of the 19th century. We consider the development of the conservative feminist idea of the single woman’s mission in and to society. Whereas Christian evangelicalism was crucial in earlier justifications of middle-class women’s activities outside the home, the literature of the 1890s secularises woman’s mission, shifting the emphasis from God to society, from spiritual salvation to economic salvation of oneself or others through participation in the labour market, usually within occupations which utilize exotic new technologies. The conflict between marriage and work for women recurs within the genre of ‘New Woman fiction. We study the impact of the ‘New Woman’ across ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ fiction and also the pressure she exerted on the emergent late Victorian ‘science’ of sexuality - psychoanalysis.

Week 15 - The single woman and her mission
Text: George Gissing, The Odd Women
Anon - ‘The Glorified Spinster’

Week 17 - The New Woman and the Question of Marriage
Text: Grant Allen, The Woman Who Did’

Week 18 - ‘They Suck Us Dry’: Feminism and Vampirism
Text: Bram Stoker, Dracula

Week 19 - ‘What Does [the New] Woman Want?’
Text: Sigmund Freud, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’)

Week 20 - Course review and planning of revision and assessed essays.



A course pack with the additional set texts will be distributed in week 1.Bibliographies of relevant secondary sources will be distributed during seminars.



Source: https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/undergraduate/modules/fulllist/special/feminisms/englitfem1790-1899.doc

Web site to visit: https://www2.warwick.ac.uk

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English literature and Feminisms


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