Female Biography, Novels, Memoirs: Are Women’s Truths in Their “Fictions”?
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Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: School of Undergraduate Studies
Course Number: NLIT 3233
Course Format: Lecture
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
- Gender and Sexuality Studies
In this course, we examine women's biographies and autobiographies, from the ancients to the present, to consider how female lives are written, by whom, and for what purposes. We draw on feminist interpretations of Plato's brief portrait of his teacher Diotima in the Symposium; accounts of women by Ovid and Plutarch; the prison diary of an early Christian martyr, Vibia Perpetua; medieval hagiographies of Hildegard of Bingen and others; and the 15th-century "confession" of Christine de Pizan, in which she imagines a subversive "City of Ladies." We then turn to the barely veiled autobiographical writings of early modern women like the poet Anne Askew, burned as a heretic in 1546; the 17th-century author and scientist Margaret Cavendish; and the political theorist Mary Wollstonecraft, best known for her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). In Mary Hays' groundbreaking Female Biography (1803), we see how women's reputations have been determined, in part, by their compliance with or resistance to sexual norms. In Victorian texts, we observe efforts to codify gender behavior through biography. We conclude with modern and contemporary biographies by and about women that reveal the continuing struggle to identify the distinctive qualities of the "female biography."