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IDSEMUG 1811 - Desperate Housewives of the 19th-Century Novel

From Jeffrey Eugenides's novel The Marriage Plot to TV's Desperate Housewives and "Real Housewives" series, our contemporary culture explores what happens after "happily ever after." Some of the great novels of the mid-to-late 19th century also examine the dilemmas of wives during a period when every aspect of "The Woman Question," including divorce and child custody laws, was debated. In this course we explore controversial novels in which female characters struggle with lives largely limited by the cultural stereotypes of the Angel in the House and the emerging New Woman.Readings include Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899), and George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893). We contextualize each with readings on historical events in the French, American, and English settings. We also read about the post-publication history of these works, including Flaubert’s trial for obscenity, Chopin’s supposedly abandoning novel-writing because of the controversy over her work, and Gissing’s own two disastrous marriages. Other readings include selections from J.S. Mill's The Subjection of Women, and from the theory of Thorstein Veblen and Michel Foucault. We end with an update: journalist Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own (2015) which examines her life and those of five other unmarried women writers: Maeve Brennan, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
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Spring 2019, Spring 2018
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