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EN379 - The Marriage Plot: romance, sex and feminism in English Fiction

This is a hybrid Creative Writing/ English Literature module. It is a distributional Requirement option for the Theory, World and North American Pathways and an option for the English Pathway and for English and Creative Writing.

Module Convenor: Professor Sarah Moss
Seminar Times 2017-18:

Wednesday 11am-1pm

Thursday 12-2pm

Beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft and ending with Karl Ove Knausgaard's challenging account of his own marriage, this module looks at the happy endings of literary romance. Most of the most successful English novels from the eighteenth century to the present day are romances. Most of these romances offer us heroines and sometimes heroes who resist traditional gender roles. Is there a contradiction when an intelligent young woman ends her story in a big white dress? How does the Byronic hero damage men? How do writers invite us to read the cross-currents of feminism, sex and power? How do we understand romance and marriage in novels also concerned with structural social inequality?

We will start with Wollstonecraft's novel Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, in which she describes marriage as the legal form of prostitution, proceeding to Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a novel at least as much about money and class as about romance, and then to Jane Eyre, in which the happy ending comes late and compromised. We will think about the 'New Women' of the 1890s, and the extent to which their image challenges Victorian thinking about marriage and women's vocations, and then move into the twentieth century with Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, a detective story set in a fictional Oxford women's college. Margaret Drabble's 1963 debut A Summer Birdcage reflects the concerns of her generation, giving us a chance to consider the extent to which this strand of British feminism is narrowly class-specific. We widen our gaze to finish with Meena Kandasamy's When I Hit You (2017) and Karl Ove Knausgaard's A Man in Love (2013).

This module is assessed by a 5,000 word portfolio of creative and critical work. At least 1,000 words must be devoted to analysis of the set texts, and you will be encouraged to develop your creative practice in response to the themes of the module.

Here is the 2017-18 reading list.

Summer reading:

Some of the set texts are long and you are likely to struggle if you don't start your reading over the long vacation. Since we're particularly interested in narrative structure and endings, you won't get much from seminars if you haven't finished the novels. In several of these the most interesting writing is near the end, and in all cases we'll be thinking about the overall shape of the narrative. A Man in Love is the longest and perhaps most demanding book - make notes as you go and pay particular attention to chronology and structure. Some of the other novels are packaged in ways that may encourage you to take them less seriously; by all means enjoy your reading in as many ways as you can but at the same time, think about how presentation influences your sense of a book's importance. Please do get in touch over the summer if your reading raises questions!