ENGL428X - Seminar in Language and Literature: Women's Utopias and the Question of Gender

In this Honors seminar we will read and discuss a variety of women's utopias, concentrating on the question of gender. How does the concept of gender change across the centuries? How do writers imagine changes in society to allow women fuller participation? How might women get society to change? Who would do the mothering and housekeeping in a women's utopia? Would the world be better with women in charge? How would the erasure of patriarchy change the way people do business, have babies, express themselves artistically, make love, take partners or establish families? What would a world without men be like? How might lesbianism influence a women's utopia? How might science be reimagined in a feminist utopia? Might people live in a more sustainable relationship with nature in a feminist utopia? For the first twelve weeks, we will read and discuss works by seventeenth-century Margaret Cavendish, eighteenth-century Sarah Robinson Scott, nineteenth-century Alice Jones and Ella Merchant (a gender-reversal utopia), and twentieth-century Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, and African-American Octavia Butler, among others. We will finish with a novel by Judith Moffett set in College Park, which reimagines an earth along the lines of gender equality and sustainable practices (with the help of aliens). The class will be student-led for critical and historical readings, and will incorporate writing and small-group discussion to prepare for whole-class discussion on the literature. Students will keep a journal on class readings to help prepare for writing papers. For the final three weeks of the course, students will report on their own research and lead discussions on topics of their choice, treating some aspect of gender or reimagined forms of living in a gender-equal literary utopia. Requirements include a journal on class readings (at least 1 typed double-spaced or 1 1/2 handwritten single spaced per class); a conference to discuss research topics; discussion panel and research report/discussion; one 5-page paper and revision, one 5-7 page paper with discursive footnotes; one 10-12 page paper (which may be an elaboration of a previous paper); attendance and participation in class discussion. Grading: journal and first 2 papers 20% each; class participation 10%; final paper 30%. I will explore the possibility of bringing Judith Moffett to one of our classes.

Repeatable to 9 credits if content differs. Course intended primarily for students in English Honors Program. English majors with strong academic records may also apply. Permission from the Director of Honors required.


Junior standing. For ENGL majors only.