English R1A

Reading and Composition: Sexual Ethics in Feminism and Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2021 Nyiri, Jesse
MWF 3-4 41 Evans

Book List

Burney, Frances: Evelina; Defoe, Daniel: Moll Flanders; Haywood, Eliza: Fantomina; Sterne, Lawrence: A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy; Tennyson, Alfred: The Princess

Other Readings and Media

Other readings by Immanuel Kant, bell hooks, Sigmund Freud, Gayle Rubin, Catharine MacKinnon, Audre Lorde, and Judith Butler will be made available on bCourses.


In this class, we'll read English fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries alongside American feminist writing of the late 20th century to look for answers to the following questions: Can sex be ethical—perhaps even good? Is desire ever sympathetic or benevolent? If not, can selfish sexualities at least be brought together through mutually beneficial exchanges? Do such exchanges make “sexual commerce” seem a little too, you know, commercial for polite society? What other political economies structure and constrain sexual ethics? Is virtue ever rightly valued on the marriage market? When prevailing sexual values do more harm than good, what changes might bring about more ethical sexual relations? Would such changes involve changing sex itself? Does that question call for a different answer if “sex” refers to what one is rather than what one does?

This course brings together historically disparate frameworks for thinking about the ethics of sex/gender systems and of sexuality. These unlikely juxtapositions will help us assess the limitations and unintended consequences of the sexual theories we'll encounter. Hopefully, in thinking through constructions that won't work, we will begin to think toward some that could. 

This is a writing-intensive course oriented toward helping students develop complex and precise questions, arguments, and close readings. Regular short responses will accompany a series of formal writing assignments.

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