English R1A

Reading and Composition: Madwomen

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2022 Karczmar, Naima
MWF 3-4 SOCS180

Book List

Chopin, Kate: The Awakening; Larsen, Nella: Passing; Morrison, Toni: Beloved; Plath, Sylvia: The Bell Jar

Other Readings and Media

Other readings will be made available on bCourses, including selected excerpts from Georges Canguilhem, Michel Foucault, Eve Sedgwick, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubart, Christina Sharpe, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, and Silvia Federici.


Madness often takes shape in literature as a kind of shattering, a disillusionment or awakening that leaves fragmented subjectivity in its wake. The figure of the madwoman in particular has been of vital importance to feminist thought in twentieth century literature and philosophy. Theorists from Foucault to Gilbert and Gubar have sought to understand the ways in which hysteria functions as an oppressively gendered category. In literature, writers like Kate Chopin, Nella Larsen, Sylvia Plath, and Toni Morrison have painted dazzling portraits of women whose complex, fractured subjectivity resists and complicates the tropes passed down from previous centuries. This course asks what happens when madness is gendered. We will use our time together to ask what limits are imposed on feminine subjectivity, how we might interrogate those demarcations, whether and when madness constitutes a threat to power. Our shared texts will span a range of twentieth century fiction with female protagonists who are frequently read as “mad,” either because they are driven to insanity by their circumstances or because their view of the world is out of step with normative expectations—or both. The syllabus includes secondary source material that will provide a critical lens to aid us in thinking through the figure of the hysterical woman in terms of race and class as well as gender. To that end, we will engage selected criticism from Marxism, Feminism, and Black Studies.

This is a writing-intensive course designed to familiarize you with the basic elements of critical reading and writing. Students will write, workshop, and revise papers throughout the semester, with a portion of class time devoted to the practical components of drafting an academic essay.

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