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Calendar: Images of Women in Literature

Week 9:

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House

Week 10:

Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Week 11:

Context for ALAN’S WIFE? Postnatal Depression (UK)/Postpartum Depression (US)

Wednesday 11/12: Elizabeth Robins and Florence Bell, Alan’s Wife

1. “All the book-learning [Jean Creyke] got from her poor father. Why does this matter?

2. “We can’t all marry scholars, mother, dear. Some of us prefer marrying men instead.”

3. [Jamie Warren] couldn’t swing himself up to steep places… He was afraid–afraid! while I, a girl, didn’t know what it was to be adraid. I don’t know now.

4. I want a husband who is … my master as well as the other folks’.

Is Jamie Warren a New Man? Why or why not?

5. William Archer called this a “tragedy of fatality.” Why might he call it that? Do you agree?

6. pp. 36-7: how does she rationalize murder?

7. Why does she think she had “courage” when she committed the murder?

8. A baptism scene as in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles.” C0mpare?

9. In the cartoons and the Grundy play, the New Woman is monstrous and also a symbol of modernity. Although Jean Creyke is far from being a new woman, is she a monster? Is she necessarily modern?

10. Co-author Florence Bell’s husband was an industry magnate. Is this relevant? Why?

11. Some of the men who contributed to the printed version, especially Archer, insist that the author is a (one) man. How do you think this may have shaped the play’s reception? Why did they keep up this ruse?

12. What are your reactions to the Jean’s beliefs? To the murder? To the resolution?

13. The New Woman and the Femme Fatale converge in several figures from 1880s-90s drama and art, including Wilde’s Salome and Sargent’s Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. Is Jean a Femme Fatale? Why or why not?

Friday 11/14: Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel. Play has been emailed to you in 2 parts.


Overall question:
It’s 1904. Which of the women in the play might be “New Women?” Why or why not?

1. How old is Esther Mills? What does she do for a living? What does she feel about her situation?

2. What are Esther’s strengths? What is her greatest vulnerability?

3. Why do the scenes have clothes patterns and/or materials as titles? What is Nottage saying about women’s memory or history?

4. Free-write: Think of a piece of clothing or linens in your family; ideally, at least since you were born. What might it tell a future historian about your family? About society at the time of its creation?

5. What is Mrs van Buren’s marriage like?

6. Why does Mrs van Buren write to George [for Esther]?

7. Esther doesn’t approve of Mayme. Why?

8. Read scene 3, from Marks: “When I see…”

9. p. 27: Mrs van B: “Maybe I’ll be a Bohemian.” What does she mean by “a Bohemian?”

10. Why does Esther make the patchwork quilt?

11. Why does it matter who wrote the letters?

12. Why does she give George her money?

13. Why DOESN’T the play end with a clear resolution for the romance between Esther and Marks?

14. Why does it end with the photo?

15. Is the “new woman” real, or just a literary image? (Were there real new women?) What does Nottage say?

16. If real: does this play expand the demographic reach of the New Woman, question its limitations, or do something else?

Monday 11/17: Michel Foucault, ed. Herculine Barbin, Being the Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century Hermaphrodite. Introduction. Program notes due.
Week 12:
Wednesday 11/19: Michel Foucault, ed. Herculine Barbin. Appendix: Medical Report;
Friday 11/21: Appendix: Panizza’s story.One blog post due.

Week 13: Monday 11/24: Virginia Woolf, Orlando, Chapters 1-3.
Wednesday 11/26: Virginia Woolf, Orlando, Chapters 4-6. Final blog portfolio due.


1. Is Orlando a typical boy (then man) of his time (late 1500s)? Why or why not?
2. Does Orlando have a vocation? What is it? How do we know? Compare Orlando’s sense of vocation with Alexina Barbin’s.
3. How is Orlando’s experience of ‘changing gender’ similar to Alexina Barbin’s? How is it different? Think about Orland’s self-identification and self-fashioning; relations with others; living conditions; legal identity.
4. Compare Orlando to the Orlandos of Orlando Furioso and As You Like It. Conjecture some reasons for Woolf’s use of this name.
5. Does
Orlando advance Woolf’s theory of the androgynous mind? Why or why not?
6. What does Orlando learn from his experience with Sasha?
7. Think about Woolf’s representation of poets and other writers: Nick Greene, Alexander Pope, etc. Can a woman be a poet like them, in their centuries? Why or why not?
8. What’s “glawr” (~ Nick Greene)? Why do you “need a pension” to “live for glawr alone?” DO you, really?
9. Characterise the Biographer. What is the rhetorical purpose of writing Orlando’s biography? Is the Biographer objective?
10. “And now again obscurity descends… would that we could write FINIS…” Why this wish? Had the Biographer written “finis,” how would Orlando’s biography be different (other than in the obvious facts of it?)
11. “The Oak Tree,” post-transformation. How is her writing practice different?
12. What does the “Archduchess” do when visiting Orlando in England? Why? How does Orlando react?
13. Orlando’s transformation follows a period of apparent clinical depression. Thoughts on this?
14. “No fame, no glory.” Discuss. How does she come to this conclusion?
15. What does Orlando realize when looking at Mrs. Bartholomew’s wedding ring? What is Woolf trying to tell us? Is it true? Then? Now?
16. “Was it marriage?”
17. Nick Greene lives for 400 years, too. Why? What is his rhetorical purpose?
18. WHy is it “monstrously difficult” to make “life” into “literature” (and/or vice versa?)
19. Is ORland an example of ecriture feminine? (Don’t say, “yes, because it’s by a woman.” Yes, but what other considerations are there?)

We will discuss these quotes:

Orlando quotes
Happy the mother who bears, happier still the biographer who records, the life of such a one! Never need she vex herself, nor he invoke the help of a novelist or poet. From deed to deed, from glory to glory, from office to office he must go, his scribe following after, till they reach what ever seat it may be that is the height of their desire. Orlando, to look at, was cut out precisely for some such career (Chapter 1).
[The Queen] flashed her yellow hawk’s eyes upon him as if she would pierce his soul. The young man withstood her gaze, blushing only a damask rose as became him. Strength, grace, romance, folly, poetry, youth—she read him like a page. Instantly she plucked a ring from her finger (the joint was swollen rather) and as she fitted it to his, named him Treasurer and Steward; next hung about him chains of office; and bidding him bend his knee, tied round it at the slenderest part the jeweled order of the Garter. Nothing after that was denied him (Chapter 1).
He beheld, coming from the pavilion of the Muscovite Embassy, a figure, which, whether boy’s or woman’s, for the loose tunic and trousers of the Russian fashion served to disguise the sex, filled him with the highest curiosity (Chapter 1).
They acted the parts of man and woman for ten minutes with great vigour and then fell into natural discourse.
It is well known … “that women are incapable of any feeling of affection for their own sex and hold each other in the greatest aversion,” [so] what can we suppose that women do when they seek out each other’s society?
As that is not a question that can engage the attention of a sensible man, let us, who enjoy the immunity of all biographers and historians from any sex whatever, pass it over and merely state that Orlando professed great enjoyment in the society of her own sex, and leave it to the gentlemen to prove, as they are very fond of doing, that this thing is impossible (Chapter 4).
“Life! A Lover!” not, “Life! A husband!” (Chapter 5).
“You’re a woman, SHel!”
“You’re a man, Orlando!”

“I am a woman,” she thought. “a real woman, at last. She thanked Bonthrop from the bottom of her heart for having given her this rare and unexpected delight (Chapter 5).
She was married, true, but what if one’s husband was always sailing round Cape Horn, was it marriage? If one liked him, was it marriage? If one liked other people, was it marriage? And finally, if one still wished, more than anything in the whole world, to write poetry, was it marriage? She had her doubts (Chapter 6).
Life? Literature? One to be made into the other? But how monstrously difficult! (Chapter 6)

****Happy Thanksgiving! See you Monday!****

Week 14:
Monday 12/1: Catch-up: ORLANDO. (since no class last Weds.) Persepolis. (questions below)
Wednesday 12/3: Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Szoter demo. Through p. 154 of The Complete Persepolis.
Friday 12/5:  Alison Bechdel,
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. End-of-course evaluation.

1. How does Satrapi represent her parents’ marriage? Her grandmother? Her uncles? Does she make any generalizations about women and men?

2. Satrapi describes several traumatic situations, but (at this point in her autobiography, anyhow), she’s a WITNESS to trauma, not a survivor. Think about some of these:
– “The Sheep” (pp. 68-74)
– “The Shabbat” (135-143)
– “The Dowry” (144-53)

What do you think of the graphic novel as a medium for documentary storytelling that concerns trauma? How does visualization help Satrapi to tell her story, and Iran’s? How DOESN’T it? What about Satrapi’s graphic style? What about the graphic novel as an autobiographical medium?


Virginia Woolf comments that history isn’t a series of “gig-lamps,” it’s a “halo”–and shows this by telling history from Orlando’s subjective view; often, from her stream of consciousness. For Satrapi, is history a halo? Gig-lamps? Some other metaphor? How does she use subjectivity and (pretensions to) objectivity?

4. Satrapi published PERSEPOLIS originally in French she lives in Paris. What were the socio-cultural conditions that enabled Satrapi to produce and publish the work in this particular form? What cultural forces drove it to such prominence that we find ourselves reading and debating it–especially in the US?

5. Why does Satrapi have to leave Iran? What in her particular character makes this inevitable?

Week 15:

Monday 12/8: Finish Fun Home. Final blog post (essay-length) due 12/9 at 5pm.
Wednesday 12/10: Wrap-up. Assignment Descriptions

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