Women Writers:  Magic, Mysticism, and Mayhem

E 350 (550) Women and Literature                           Dr. Lynn Alexander
UTM English Department                                              Office: H 130E, x7280
Fall 2002                                                                  E-mail: lalexand@utm.edu

Catalog description:

A historical survey of women writers, including contemporary writers, which focuses on women writers' concern with and presentation of issues such as race, ethnicity, religion, and class.

Course goals and objectives:

Students completing English 350 should gain the following knowledge and skills (as defined by the Tennessee Teacher Licensure Standards):

Course description:

Although women have always written, until the appearance of the novel in the late eighteenth century, the publication (and thus the preservation) of a woman's writing was rare. But the advent of a new form, the novel, brought new opportunities and women were soon being published in record numbers. Thus, because the novel has become the dominant force in women's literature, it is the genre on which we are going to focus. But even when limited to novels, there is still an overwhelming number of texts and authors to choose from; so a common theme--magic, mysticism, and mayhem--and common cultures--English and American--have been used as guides to limit the reading selections.

I chose the theme "Magic, Mysticism, and Mayhem" because women writers have often used these devices to cloak issues that were considered questionable, improper, or outright taboos by society. Thus, Mary Shelley can use the fantastic creation of Victor Frankenstein to speak of issues such as pregnancy, postpartum depression, and even parental rejection. Similarly, Virginia Woolf can use fantasy to address cultural issues such as androgyny, same sex desire, and women's rights. One of the questions we will address repeatedly is, what are the issues behind this novel.



Eight novels, most of them short, and one short story will be discussed in class and online.  I have  specified particular editions since in some cases we will be using the critical articles involved, and it is always easier if we can all be on the same page. If, however, you already own copies of some works you don't need to replace them; just be sure you have access to any supplemental materials.  Copies of all of the works are available in the campus bookstore.



Our class will not be meeting on Fridays. To compensate, at least partially, for this class members should log on to the bulletin board at least two times a week with at least one of the postings occurring between Thursday and Sunday.  The novels discussed should follow the reading schedule, and students are expected to have at least one entry on each work. There are some general discussion questions linked to each novel for us to consider, and they can be used in the discussions, but do not have to be. Students are expected to do outside, critical reading as well; this is to be primarily a participation class and such readings will be necessary to sustain discussions of the novels.  The link to the background information and discussion questions is through the title listing in the schedule (below). 


To give students the experience of leading group discussions, I am asking that students sign up to lead two discussions. Each discussion will be lead by a small group of about four students. 

Writing Assignments:

Besides logging on to the discussion bulletin board three times a week, students will write two papers--one five-page, close reading of a novel on the syllabus (an analysis of a character, theme, setting, or image), and one eight- to ten-page research paper (three sources minimum, MLA documentation) on a novel. Either paper may be done first, but you may want to do the close reading second so that you have more choices. 


I am also asking you to read at least one critical article on three of the novels and write a critique of the novel (there is a list of articles attached). Critiques are due by the last day of discussion of a particular novel and at least one of them must be done before midterm grades are due. Finally, there will be mid-term and final exams as well (these will be placed on line two days before the due date). If  you are taking the course for graduate credit, click here.

Grading scale:
assignment percentage
online discussion   10%
in-class discussion            10%
critiques   15% (5% each)
group discussion    5%
inside paper   15% 
outside paper   20% 
mid-term    10% 
final    15%
total 100%

August 19  Introduction
August 21-28 Frankenstein  
September 4 Frankenstein, discussion 
September 9-18 Wuthering Heights
September 23 Wuthering Heights, discussion
September 25 "The Yellow Wallpaper"
September 30 "The Yellow Wallpaper," discussion
October 2-7  Orlando   

October 9


Orlando, discussion

mid-term exam due

October 14-16  Wide Sargasso Sea
October 21  Wide Sargasso Sea, discussion
October 23-28 Ceremony 
October 23 paper due
October 30 Ceremony, discussion 
November 4-11  The Left Hand of Darkness
November 13 The Left Hand of Darkness, discussion
November 18-25 Mama Day
November 20 paper due
November 27 Mama Day, discussion
December 2-4 Like Water for Chocolate
December 4 final exam due
December 10  Like Water for Chocolate, discussion   

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April 2002