English 290: Invalid Women
Spring 1997
MWF 9-10

Erin O'Connor

This course traces the radical entanglement of women's writing and women's illness from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present. Historically, clusters of symptoms and creative synthesis go hand in hand when it comes to women--countless inv alid women have been writers, and illness is often seen as a pre-condition for women's artistic creation. Writing itself has been seen alternately as a cause of female indisposition and a cure for it. Women's symptoms were--and sometimes still are--routin ely read by medicine as aberrant body language, the spontaneous fictions of unsettled and undisciplined; while women's fictions often treat themes of illness, using them to articulate pressing questions about women's capacities for artistic expression and self-determination under patriarchy. The specific manifestations of these patterns have varied widely over time, as models of illness, treatment techniques, modes of writing, and opportunities for women have changed. Over the course of the term, we will chart the invalid woman's progress as patient and artist. Moving from hysteria to anorexia, dyspepsia to depression, neurasthenia to schizophrenia, we will track actual and fictional invalid women through an endless succession of water cures, rest cures, talking cures, forced feedings, sexual surgeries, electric shock therapies, and pharmaceutical interventions. At the same time, we will attend closely to the language of illness in novels, letters, and diaries by women, as well as to medical of women's il lness.

Required texts:

Available at Penn Book Center:

A Bulkpack, available at Campus Copy Center

Course Requirements:

One short (5-7 pp) paper
One longer (12-15 pp) paper
A final exam
A series of short, electronic writing assignments designed to spark class discussion
Regular attendance
Lively participation in class and electronic discussion Readings:

Jan. 13 Lecture
Jan. 15 Sontag, "Illness as Metaphor"
Jan 17 Sontag

Jan 20 Austen, Persuasion (all)
Jan 22 Persuasion
Jan 24 Persuasion

Jan 27 Mullan, "Hypochondria and Hysteria" (BP)
Jan 29 Austen, Sanditon (BP)
Jan 31 Burney, "A Mastectomy" (BP)

Feb 3 Gilbert and Gubar, "Infection in the Sentence" (BP)
Feb 5 Foucault, from The History of Sexuality (BP)
Feb 7 Foucault, contd.

Feb 10 Bronte, Villette (chaps. 1-13)
Feb 12 Villette (chaps. 14-19)
Feb 14 Villette (chaps. 20-25)

Feb 17 Showalter, "The Rise of the Victorian Madwoman," "Managing Women's Minds" (BP)
Feb 19 Villette (chaps. 26-34)
Feb 21 Villette (chaps. 35-end)

Feb 24 Wood, "The Fashionable Diseases" (BP)
Feb 25 Nord, "Urban Peripatetic" (BP)
Feb 28 Poovey, "Scenes of Indelicate Character" (BP)

Mar 3 Brumberg, "Emergence of the Modern Disease"; "The Appetite as Voice" (BP)
Mar 5 Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper
Mar 7 Lanser, "Feminist Criticism, 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' and the Politics of Color in America" (BP)

Mar 10
Mar 14

Mar 17 Freud, Dora (all)
Mar 19 Dora
Mar 21 Smith-Rosenberg, "The New Woman as Androgyne" (BP)

Mar 24 Woolf, A Room of One's Own (all)
Mar 26 essay TBA
Mar 28 Woolf, contd.

Mar 31 Plath, The Bell Jar (all)
Apr 2 The Bell Jar
Apr 4 Showalter, "Women and Psychiatric Modernism" (BP)

Apr 7 Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted (all)
Apr 9 Girl, Interrupted
Apr 11 essay, TBA

Apr 15 Self-Help Book TBA
Apr 16 contd. Apr 18 Wurtzel, Prozac Nation (all)

Apr 21 Prozac Nation
Apr 23 Prozac Nation
Apr 25 synthesis

FINAL PAPER DUE: Wednesday, April 30