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Gender & Literature




Admission Requirements



In this course we will read, discuss, and write about the ways literary texts – poetry, drama, autobiography, and fiction – shape our understanding of what it is to be and live as a gendered individual. We will take “gender” to refer loosely to the cultural meanings that sexual differences have generated over time, and which are inextricably intertwined with complex determinations of race and class. Texts include Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (and the screen adaptation The Hours), Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms, Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask (and the documentary on Mishima’s life), Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal, Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and a selection of her poems, Assia Djebar, “Today” from Women of Algiers in Their Apartments, Tony Kushner, Angels in America. Additionally, we will gain insight into the ways theorists narrate the stories of feminism, queer and transgender theory, keeping a critical eye on the consecrated (but flawed) narrative of a shift from liberal, socialist, and radical feminist thought to postmodern gender theory. Authors include Toril Moi, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Clare Hemmings, Heather Love, Leo Bersani and others. Students should expect to read (and hopefully enjoy) a novel or play every week, as well as a selection of theoretical texts.

Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • a good awareness of the ways gender has historically determined one’s position in society and of how class and race complicate such determinations

  • familiarity with the different debates and developments in the study of gender

  • enhanced critical reading skills with respect to both literature and theory

  • insight into the complex ways literature and theory reflect, represent, and shape our perceptions of social relations

  • enhanced oral presentation skills.

Mode of Instruction

Classes will be a combination of short lectures and seminar discussions, with students introducing the required texts as well as presenting the optional ones. Engagement with the material in written form is also an integral part of the course, both weekly (webposts) and at the end of the block (final paper).


This is a reading-intensive course; in fact, students should expect it to be like a reading tour de force, during which they will live immersed in other people’s thoughts, lives, and worlds. Our aim will be to articulate as well as possible, both orally and in writing, the nuances of such experiences. Students will write four 500-word webposts (a general-audience review, an argumentative reflection, and two close readings) which will serve as a basis for class discussion; prepare and deliver an oral presentation (20 minutes); and a 2500-word research essay (a proposal and annotated bibliography is due at the end of week 4).

In-class participation and four webposts: 40%
Oral presentation: 25%
Final research essay (2500 words): 35%


Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)
Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948)
Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask (1949)
Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal (1949)
Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1983)
Assia Djebar, Women of Algiers in Their Apartments (1980)
Tony Kushner, Angels in America (2003)

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1
Gender and modernism (Virginia Woolf)
Week 2
“Queering” gender (Truman Capote)
Weeks 3 & 4
Existentialism(s). Performance, mask, becoming (Mishima, de Beauvoir, Genet)
Week 5
Radical lesbianism, community, and what it means to be a lesbian African-American writer under McCarthy (Audre Lorde, “biomythography”)
Week 6
Rewriting tales of gender: Assia Djebar’s Arabic voices
Week 7
“Friendship as a way of life” and the AIDS crisis (Michel Foucault, Tony Kushner)

Preparation for first session

Students are encouraged to read most of the texts during winter break. At a minimum, they should come to the first class prepared to discuss Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.