Wharton and James: Gender and Power (LIT2331.01)

Kathleen Alcott

Long before ideas about the ‘performativity’ of gender entered the cultural conversation, the Progressive-era writers Henry James and Edith Wharton—who were also correspondents and travel companions—produced fiction that subtly examined the ways that factors including class, region, age, and travel operated upon our conceptions of personhood, and particularly as they related to the balance of male and female power. In an educated upper class that claimed to value individualism but enforced narrow definitions of the masculine and feminine, was real self expression even possible? Can power gained through manipulation of others’ ideas about us ever last very long? In this course, students will read selected novels and short fiction of Wharton and James, as well as excerpts from their memoirs and letters to each other, tracing the way their roles as mentor and mentee shifted, their minds changed, and they, in turned, changed the minds of their readers. Taking into consideration the ways Wharton’s work broadened in the turmoil of the turn of the century, but James’ audience began to abandon him, the course will explore relevant ancillary materials, such as book reviews published in the author’s lifetimes, journalistic writings on the integration of women into wider society, and influential psychoanalytic theory.

Prerequisites: None.
Credits: 4
M 12:10pm - 2:00pm; W 12:10pm - 2:00pm
Maximum Enrollment: 20
Course Frequency:
This course is categorized as 2000, All courses, Areas of Study, Four Credit, Kathleen Alcott, Literature, Monday and/or Thursday Afternoons.