Fall 2023 Undergraduate English Courses

358:434 Seminar: Renaissance Women Writers

01   CAC    MTH2    08193    COIRO   MU-213

Renaissance Women Writers: Reshaping the Literary Canon

Many women writers suddenly “emerged” in the 1980's (many more have emerged since). Our seminar will question why and how these major writers were erased for so long. Our answers will illuminate and be illuminated by other long-marginalized authors’ belated inclusion in the current canon, including Indigenous, Black, Asian and Latinx authors.

We will focus particularly on women writing in the 17C after Elizabeth I’s reign ends in 1603. Women writing during these years navigated tense religious and political differences and traumatic and consequential revolutions (the English civil wars and the so-called Glorious revolution), social disapproval, and generic strictures set by men. In this crucible, they wrote stunningly innovative work. Our semester will be divided into three sections. To begin, we will read three daring plays that explore divorce and/or women’s sexual agency (Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam, Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure, and Aphra Behn’s The Rover). Next, we will read a selection of prose works: Lucy Hutchinson’s Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, including The Life of Mrs Lucy Hutchinson, Written by Herself: A Fragment, Margaret Cavendish’s Sociable Letters and Assaulted and Pursued Chastity, and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. Our final focus will be on poetry by Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish, Hester Pulter, Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn.

Your research and writing will be at the center of everything we do. 400-level courses are designed to be small working groups, so you will be collaborating with your fellow seminar members, as well as doing your own work. Everyone will become adept at using databases, including the Oxford English Dictionary, Early English Books Online and JSTOR. Everyone will write conference presentations, creative non-fiction responses and will end the semester by writing and workshopping a close reading of one or two poems (9-10 pp).