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EN913 Feminist Literary Theory

This module is available to all English department MA students - it may be taken as either the Critical Theory requirement or as an optional module. Exceptionally, students from MA programmes in the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, Philosophy and other Departments in the Faculty of Arts may be admitted.


Tutor: Dr Emma Francis'

Wedsnesdays Term 2, 11-1

Room: H541

This module will consider some of the most important debates and trends in feminist literary theory over the last few decades. The module will consider the intersections of academic and popular, intellectual and activist dimensions of feminist literary theory; we also place emphasis on the articulation of feminist literary practice with representations of race, sexuality and class. Questions of reading practices, genre and canon-formation, as well as those of artistic expressions in response to the collaboration and conflict engaged between 'western', 'multicultural' and 'third world' feminisms will be some of the key themes that the module will explore. We will examine the use and abuse of writing by black women in the formation of feminist literary theory - the way in which white feminist critics have recuperated black authored texts and have avoided the interrogation of whiteness. Both literary study and feminism being amongst the least autonomous of intellectual fields we will open the question of feminist literary theory's relationship with cultural and social theory - Marxism and psychoanalysis were from the outset of the period we are engaged with crucial interlocutors of feminist thought and feminism's encounter with literature was a particularly rich site of these encounters. We will think about the historicity of feminism's engagement with literature and culture - does it make sense to bring concepts generated by feminism into dialogue with texts or practices chronologically or politically outside of the 'enlightenment' or 'modernity'? One of the most important questions we will ask is: what are the accounts of 'woman' that feminist literay theories rest upon?


Key ‘literary’ texts will be used as touchstones for our debates during the module. They are:

Mahasweta Devi, 'Doulouti the Bountiful' in Imaginary Maps, ed. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, (Routledge: 1995)

Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems, 1862 (xerox supplied)

Nella Larsen, Passing [1929] in An Intimation of Things Distant, The Collected Fiction of Nella Larsen (Anchor: 1989)

Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (Virago: 1986)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own [1928] (OUP: 2008)

As we will see, the demarcation between 'literary' and 'theoretical' texts has always been unstable within feminism and the module sets up a dialogue between the two categories.


A copy of each of the core seminar readings will be placed in the module file for consultation should you have difficulty in accessing them via the e-resources or hard copies in the Library. Programmes of secondary reading will be developed as the module proceeds, in consultation between each student and the module tutor.


1. What is Feminist Literary Theory? Introduction to the module’s key themes - planning your term's work

2. The Feminist Critic and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (Yale University Press: 1979), Chapters 1& 2 (pp. 3-44; 45-92)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and A Critique of Imperialism”, in Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ed. “Race”, Writing and Difference (1985): 262-280. Three Women's Texts pdf

3. Feminist Literary Theory and the Metaphorics of Mothering

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Virginia Blain, 'Thinking Back Through Out Aunts', in Women: A Cultural Review 1:1 (1989), 223-239

Helene Cixous, 'The Laugh of the Medusa', in New French Feminisms ed. Marks and de Courtivron (University of Massachusetts Press: 1980), 245-264

Julia Kristeva, 'Stabat Mater', in The Kristeva Reader ed. Toril Moi (Blackwell: 1986), 160-186

4. Freud's Women 1: Performance, Resistance and the Dark Continent

Nella Larsen, Passing

Sigmund Freud, 'Femininity', in New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis [1933] rpt. PFL vol 2. trans. Strachey (1973), 145-169

Joan Riviere, 'Womanliness as a Masquerade' [1929] rpt in Formations of Fantasy ed. Victor Burgin (Routledge: 1986), 35-44

Jacqueline Rose, 'Femininity and its Discontents,' in Sexuality in the Field of Vision, (Verso: 1986), 83-103

5. White Feminist Criticism and Black Women's Writing

Nella Larsen Passing

Mahasweta Devi 'Doulouti the Bountiful'

Elizabeth Abel, “Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation”, Critical Inquiry 19 (Spring 1993): 470-498.

Hazel Carby, “’On the Threshold of Woman’s Era’: Lynching, Empire and Sexuality in Black Feminist Theory” Critical Inquiry 12 (1): 262-277 (1985)

bell hooks, "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators" in Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992): 115-131. bell hooks

6. The Uses of History: Marxist-Feminist Criticism and its Supporting Narratives

Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman

Heidi Hartman, 'the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism [1979] rpt in Linda Nicholson (ed), The Second Wave (Routledge: 1997), 97-122

Alison Light, 'The Question of Nelly' in Mrs Woolf and the Servants) (Fig Tree Press: 2002008), 161-221

Amanda Vickery, 'Golden Age to Separate Spheres?' in The Historical Journal (Summer 1993), 383-414

7. Feminist Theory/Lesbian Theory

Nella Larsen, Passing

Terry Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian (Columbia University Press:1993), Chapters 1 & 3, pp. 1-19 &2 8-65

Sharon Marcus, Between Women (Princeton University Press: 2007), Chapter 2 'Just Reading' pp.73-108

Monique Wittig, 'The Straight Mind' in The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Beacon Press: 1992)

8. Bodies of Value

Mahasweta Devi, 'Doulouti the Bountiful'

Sandra Bartky, 'Foucault, Feminism and the Modernisation of Patriarchal Power' in Femininity and Domination: Studiesin the Phenomenology of Oppression (Taylor and Francis: 1990)

FAdwa el Guindi, 'Veiling Resistance' [1999] rpt in Lewis and Mills (eds) Feminist Potcolonial Theory, 586-612

Francoise Lionnet, “Feminisms and Universalisms: ‘Universal Rights’ and the Legal Debate Around the Practice of Female Excision in France”, [1992] rpt in Feminist Postcolonial Theory, 368-380

9. Freud's Women 2: Emerging from the Dark Continent

Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems (xerox supplied)

Luce Irigaray, 'The Blind Spot on an Old Dream of Symmetry', in Speculum of the Other Woman trans. Gillian C. Gill (Cornell University Press: 1985), 11-129

10. Digital Feminism

Workshop session


1970s and 1980s

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979)

Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981)

Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (1985)

Elaine Showalter, ed. The New Feminist Criticism (1985)

Teresa de Lauretis, ed. Feminist Studies/Critical Studies (1986)

Denise Riley, 'Am I That Name'? Feminism and the Category of Women in History (1988)


Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)

Linda J. Nicholson, ed. Feminism/Postmodernism (Routledge, 1990)

Judith Butler and Joan Scott, eds. Feminists Theorise the Political (1992)

Jane Gallop, Around 1981: Academic Feminist Literary Theory (1992)

M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty (eds). Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures (1997)

Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, eds. Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (1997)


Reina Lewis and Sara Mills, eds. Feminist Postcolonial Theory (New York: Routledge, 2003)

Ellen Rooney, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory (2006)