Skip to main content Skip to navigation

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. Depending on availability of places, 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.

Module tutor: Dr Emma Francis

Autumn Term 2023-24

Seminars: OC1.06 Wednesdays 11-1


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, gender, class and cultural identity. 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 dialogues. 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 '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 reading. The following 'literary' texts will act as touchstones for our debates on the module:

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

Emily Dickinson, selected poems [1862] (electronic version to be supplied)

Nella Larsen Passing [1929] (Penguin: 2020) recommended for student purchase

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

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

All other texts listed as required reading below are available via the module's Talis Aspire page.

Seminar Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

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

Week 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 and 45-92)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and A Critique of Imperialism” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 1, "Race," Writing, and Difference (Autumn, 1985), pp. 243-261. gayatri_spivak_three_womens_texts_and_a_critique_of_imperialism.pdf

Opening remarks: Emma

Week 3: Feminist Literary Theory and the Metaphorics of Mothering

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

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

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

Opening remarks: Emma

Week 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) pp. 145-169

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

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

Opening remarks: Stella

Week 5: White Feminist Criticism and Black Women's Writing

Mahasweta Devi, 'Doulouti the Bountiful'

Nella Larsen, Passing

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

bell hooks, 'The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators', in Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992) pp.151-131

Opening remarks: Anna, Haleema and Tania

Week 6: Class postponed due to illness

Week 7: The Uses of History - 1 Marxist Feminist Criticism and its Supporting Narratives

Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman

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

Opening remarks: Yilin

Week 8: The Uses of History - 2 Marxist Feminist Criticism and its Discontents

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), pp. 97-122

Opening remarks: Sid and Siyao

Week 9: Feminist Theory/ Lesbian Theory

Nella Larsen, Passing

Terry Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian (Columbia University Press: 1993) Chapters 1 & 3, pp.1-19 & 28-65

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)

Opening remarks: Katelyn, Mengqi and Ningtiao

Week 10: Bodies of Value

Mahasweta Devi, 'Doulouti the Bountiful'

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

Fadwa ed Guindi, 'Veiling Resistance' [1999] rpt in Lewis and Mills (eds) Feminist Postcolonial Theory, pp. 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, pp. 368-380

Opening remarks: Boning and Zhang

Week 10: Freud's Women 2 - Emerging from the Dark Continent (additional session - Wednesday 2-4, FAB 5.52)

Emily Dickinson, selected poems (copyright compliant sheet supplied)

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

Opening remarks: Abi, Eve and Gabriella


1970s and 1980s

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

Kandiyoti, Deniz. “Bargaining With Patriarchy.” Gender & Society, vol. 2, no. 3, Sept. 1988, pp.


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)


hooks, bell, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre (London, Pluto Press, 2000)

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

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


Tithi Bhattacharya, ed. Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Centring Oppression (Pluto, 2018)

Ilea, Laura T and Deliu, Ana-Maria, "Combined and Uneven Feminism: Intersectional and Post-constructivist Tendencies" in Metacritic Journal for Comparative Studies and Theory, 4 (2018), pp. 5-21.

As you develop your essay, consult me for further suggestions about critical reading specific to your topic.