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The Madwoman in the Text

English 151E Hillary Kelleher

Eugene Delacroix, A Mad Woman

In their landmark study of Victorian writers, The Mad Woman in the Attic (1979), feminist critics Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert note the portrayal of female characters as either pure and angelic or monstrous and crazy.  ENG 151E will explore and critique this idea across literary periods and genres.  Starting with the ancient tragedy Medea, we’ll trace the image of the mad, monstrous woman through Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Stoker’s Dracula.  We’ll also read later female writers such as Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath, and Toni Morrison. 

Like all sections of Literature and Interpretation, ours will cover the major genres of poetry, drama, novel, and short story, as well as in-between works of non-fiction like Freud’s case study of the ‘hysterical’ Dora.  Along the way, we’ll consider how contemporary third-wave and ‘post-feminist’ critics respond to Gubar and Gilbert’s approach to gender.

Our class will evolve as a group think-tank in which you share perceptions about what you read and express your ideas in writing.  My aim is to help you harness your intelligence and imagination as you engage with complex texts and create nuanced, convincing interpretations.  

This intense literary excursion will require you to read around 250 pages each week (sometimes more, sometimes less), write informally and formally, and contribute to group presentations.