Introduction to Women Writers

Ho hum. The course title doesn’t exactly wow them at registration. (And we’ll see how well it does as a blog posting title!)  In the past I’ve had sexy themes and posters to entice students (most of our students are not English majors), and I generally teach the course in the spring after I have a few terms to recruit. But with the massive influx of students lately, recruitment is no longer necessary: the class will have seats, and they will mostly fill.

What I do need to address is retention. How do I keep students in the class, students who generally do not read? A traditional anthology-focused survey course even makes me yawn. But 3-4 novels in 10 weeks generally leads to 10+ withdrawals by week 3. 

So, I’m thinking of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale paired with Gilman’s Herland.

And I’m thinking of pairing Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones’ Diary.

And I’m thinking of pairing Alcott’s Little Women with Chopin’s The Awakening.

Am I crazy? Should I focus more on contemporary works (our course description is vague enough to allow for either breadth or depth)? Do you have other pairings that come to mind?

If anyone in the blogosphere is still even checking in on this “humble” (to quote a not so humble blogger) blog, post the works YOU would include in your own fantasy “Introduction to Women Writers” course, paired or not.

15 responses to “Introduction to Women Writers

  1. I **love** your pairings!

    I want to try The Odyssey with Atwood’s Penelopiad, but Homer wasn’t a woman so wouldn’t fit into your scheme. Will think and return if any inspiration strikes. 😉

  2. “How do I keep students in the class, students who generally do not read?”

    You hang them from the rafters upsidedown with a required book dangling in front of them and a test they must fill in and pass before being cut loose.

    Have you tried your book pairs with a lion taming act? or maybe some knife juggling? They want education-entertainment, so make it FUN FUN FUN for them to try to SURVIVE SURVIVE SURVIVE lions and knifes!

    sorry, my snark took over. I’m tired of students not wanting to do anything a student should be doing, like READING PHUCKING BOOKS.

  3. The last time I taught Women’s Lit at my CC, I kind of wished I was ending with Twilight. The gender dynamics in the book are interesting (and maddening) and quite archaic. If you put Twilight at the end of the course (with a pairing or alone), maybe some of them would be encouraged to stick around for it. I’m sure you or your readers could think of a good pairing for it. I suppose you *might* pair it with Jane Eyre . . . I’d love to hear other pairing suggestions for that one.

    You could also do a battle of the Brontes: Jane Eyre vs. Wuthering Heights.

    Another interesting pair might be Wollstonecraft’s Vindication and Shelley’s Frankenstein (only if you want them reading some non-fiction tracts).

    I’m curious about your pairing of Little Women and The Awakening. What prompted that one? Oh,and have you read Alcott’s Behind a Mask? Dude. I love that one.

    Okay. I’ll stop now. Thanks for the fun!

  4. I think your pairings sound great! I just recently read Herland and thought it was pretty incredible, so I would definitely include it.
    Other works I would consider adding:
    Atwood’s The Robber Bride
    Plath’s The Bell Jar
    Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Everybody’s Autobiography
    Satrapi’s Persepolis
    And maybe Smith’s White Teeth
    I think GEW’s recommendations above are pretty awesome too.
    As always, sounds like a fun class!

  5. Thank you all! Several colleagues thought Persepolis would work well with the Atwood, too. And yes, The Bell Jar is fabulous.

    One reason I thought of Little Women and Awakening is the connection between two women “artists” of sorts, but Alcott’s Behind a Mask would work well with Jane Eyre, too.

    Twilight and Wuthering Heights: that would be excellent (tho I’d actually have to reread Twilight, which worries me;-) Thank you GEW…

    So many works, so little time. But I greatly appreciate that you all like the pairing idea.

    I love daydreaming about a course I won’t teach for months instead of prepping next week’s lectures—now why IS that?

  6. Maybe Handmaid’s Tale, Persepolis AND Herland? Herland is a fascinating read and works extremely well with HT. And Persepolis just plain rocks. So I vote for three! Do they have to be pairs only or can there be a triplet? 😉

    Ooh, what about Behind the Mask and The Yellow Wallpaper as a potential combination?

  7. Ok, one last thought: how about Atwood’s _Good Bones and Simple Murders_ AND Gertrude Stein’s _Tender Buttons_? Both genre-crossing and awesome…and both responding in various ways to the patriarchal/canonical.

    I’ll stop now.

  8. JC: I know, you’re right. I DO require lots of reading and writing in a gen ed course, and I tend to lose 10-12 students by midterm as a result. So far, this lightens my grading load without causing ogida with the administrators…

    Inc: I’m definitely leaning toward that threesome, Ink! But do tell me what you see as the connections between Behind The Mask and Yellow Wallpaper?? I’m not seeing it off the bat…..(but I’m already intrigued).

    Don’t stop!! I’m already digging around for the Stein and Atwood books (can’t find my Atwood!!!! Amazon, I’m on the way….)….

  9. Re: BAM and YW, I guess I’m thinking of the way that the main female characters are limited but attempting to have a voice? It’s been awhile since I’ve read BAM but isn’t there a sort of gothic-y element to it, or am I thinking of something else?

  10. Yes it’s gothicy: Jean Muir, the main character, has the ability to make men fall in love with her, and she uses it to marry up. It’s a great tale, and it does cover class and gender issues, so there’s that connection with Yellow Wallpaper! Thanks, Ink. I’m thinking of doing BAM!

  11. Yes, Behind a Mask is great with Jane Eyre since it’s kind of a re-writing of Bronte’s book. Sort of like the Pamela/Shamela thing.

    And Twilight and Wuthering Heights sounds interesting! Makes me almost think about finishing WH. Oh, yes. I said it. I struggle with that one.

    And, yes, it’s WAY more fun to plan books for future courses. Kind of like making a Christmas list versus actually shopping for and shipping said Christmas gifts. The former is exciting. The latter sucks.

  12. GEW: exactly!! I need to prep a lecture for THIS week’s book selection, but am still daydreaming about Behind a Mask and Jane Eyre (which was Alcott’s all time favorite book, fyi).

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