The Urban Woman, 1895-1930
The Urban Woman, 1889-1934
“How would our understanding of modernity change if instead of taking male experience as paradigmatic, we were to look at texts written primarily by or about women? And what if feminine phenomena, often seen as having a secondary or marginal status, were given a central importance in the analysis of the culture of modernity?”
—Rita Felski, The Gender of Modernity (1995)
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were defined to a significant extent by radical transformations in women’s social position and massive urbanization. This course asks what’s at stake in representations of the modern woman, how these representations intersect with urban experience, and how the categories of “woman” and “urban” help to bring modernity into focus.
Cities constituted spaces of intellectual, social, and sexual freedom but also centers of alienation, power, and potential violence. Taking London and New York as our principal locales, we’ll examine representations of women and urban experience in a range of poetry, non-fiction, short stories, and novels.As these works attest, what was known as “the woman question” was in fact multiple, encompassing issues of mobility, individuality, political representation, sexuality, economics, race, and globalization—all of which converge in the geographic and conceptual space of the modern city. Throughout the quarter we’ll be asking how each of our texts poses, and potentially answers, a woman question of its own.
Here's an electronic version of the syllabus: English 200d syllabus_2015W.pdf
Here's the latest version (01/12/15) of the class calendar: English 200d calendar_01.11.15.pdf
This class will use literature from the early twentieth century to explore the distinctive possibilities and risks that urban environments presented to women. In particular, cities represented spaces of intellectual, social, and sexual freedom but also focused centers of alienation, imbalanced power, and potential violence. Taking London and New York as our principal locales, we’ll examine poetry, non-fiction, short stories, and novels by authors who may include Edith Wharton, Nella Larsen, Djuna Barnes, Anita Loos, Sarah Grand, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Rebecca West, and Mina Loy. In order to put these authors in conversation with contemporary commentary on the city and effects of urbanization, we’ll read literary works alongside short pieces of journalism and sociology.
This material will provide opportunities for developing academic writing and revision skills. Grading will be based on participation, short assignments, and formal papers, and students can expect to be reading and writing in preparation for every class meeting. Class time will be divided between large- and small-group discussions and short lectures.