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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.

Spring 2019

Dr Rashmi Varma



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. We will also address 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'?

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. Key ‘literary’ texts will be used as touchstones for our debates and discussions during the module.

Required Texts

Etel Adnan, Sitt Marie Rose (1978)

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

Toni Morrison, "Recitatif"

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1935)

Leila Slimani, Lullaby (Faber, 2018)

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

Seminar Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

What is Feminist Literary Theory? Introduction to the module’s key themes, methodologies and plan

Week 2: Feminist Literary Theory and its Others

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (Yale University Press: 1979), Chapter 10

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.

Week 3: Under Western Eyes

Chandra Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses” in Mohanty et al. eds. Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991): 51-80.

Hazel Carby, "White Woman, Listen!"

Week 4: Playing in the Dark

Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

Elizabeth Abel, “Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation”

Hazel Carby, “’On the Threshold of Woman’s Era’: Lynching, Empire and Sexuality in Black Feminist Theory”, in Lewis and Mills, eds.; 222-237 (originally published in 1985).

Week 5: Reading Queerly

Halberstam, J. Jack. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives

Heyes, Cressida. “Feminist Solidarity after Queer Theory: The Case of Transgender.”

Muñoz, José. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity.

Muñoz, José. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics.

Week 6: The Uses of History

Etel Adnan, Sitt Marie Rose

Joan Scott, “Experience” in Butler and Scott, eds. Feminists Theorise the Political (New York: Routledge, 1992): 22-40.

Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, in Chrisman and Williams, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory

Week 7: Bodies of Value

Mahasweta Devi, “Draupadi”

Sharon Marcus, “Fighting Bodies, Fighting words: A theory and politics of rape prevention” in Butler and Scott, eds.
Iris Marion Young, “Throwing Like a Girl”

Donna Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs

Week 8: Social Reproduction Theory I

Carolyn Steadman

Week 9: Social Repreoduction Theory II

Leila Slimani, Lullaby

Week 10: The Work of Theory in a Neo-liberal Age

Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism: On Marx, Loss, and the Senses,”New Formations 63(Winter [2007–08]):33–51.

Nancy Fraser, from Fortunes of Feminism

Kathi Weeks, from The Problem with Work


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)