English R1B

Reading and Composition: Plain Girls

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2020 Eisenberg, Emma Charlotte
MWF 10-11 31 Evans

Book List

Brontë, Charlotte: Jane Eyre; Rooney, Sally: Conversations with Friends

Other Readings and Media

Course reader with theoretical and critical readings TBD


"Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? …Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?”

Published in 1847, Jane Eyre was unlike any novel published before. It tells the story of a woman without beauty, money, or status, encouraged to repress her desires by a world uninterested in her happiness. But the story unfolds in the woman’s own voice, which not only critiques her oppressors, but conveys a passionate interior life—one that other characters (and perhaps Jane’s “dear reader”) find peculiarly attractive.

In this class, we will pair Jane Eyre with two other novels that center on self-proclaimed plain girls: Sally Rooney’s polyamorous love story, Conversations with Friends (2017) and Nella Larson’s queer investigation of race in Passing (1929). Although plainness is often interpreted as sexual undesirability, it also raises more complex questions about being “seen” as a particular type of person—or as a person at all. Analyzing these texts, we will ask questions like: how does language enable and disable women from expressing their needs and desires? What’s sexy about talking and what’s violent about certain intimate conversations? Why is it so important for a woman to be able to control her image? Why do so many novels revolve around women who are interesting but not beautiful? These themes will inform this course’s broader purpose: to develop analytical and argumentative skills introduced in R1A, while teaching students to effectively identify and work with pertinent secondary materials in a final research paper.

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