Rethinking Gender: From the Bronte Sisters to Eimear McBride - CP629

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 3)
Autumn and Spring
View Timetable
5 30 (15) DR KM Haustein-Corcoran







This module investigates the representation of love, desire and the body in a selection of texts by women writers from different temporal, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In particular we will look at the way representations of love, desire and the body reflect the respective socio-cultural contexts and the situation of women therein, how these writers deal with themes such as love, desire and eroticism, and what aesthetic strategies they use to tackle them. What models of feminine behaviour are celebrated or criticised? To what extent are relevant representational conventions adhered to or transgressed in these works?
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for example provides a complex representation of a split and conflicted female identity, torn between demands of the body, passions, rages and desires, and the demands of the mind, the spirit and the intellect. This conflict is externalised in the form of the characters Bertha Mason and Helen Burns, alter egos which Jane has to overcome and reconcile. Jane Eyre will offer a useful touchstone for other representations of female figures caught between social conventions and desires, and their attempts to come to terms with them.
Students will be asked to engage with the siginificance of images and representations of women proliferated through literature. These representations provide or question role models, perpetuate or problematise stereotypical versions of feminine goals and aspirations. Furthermore, emphasis will be placed on close readings of the various works, and students will be asked to pay close attention to cultural differences and variations, and to examine how the conceptions and representations of love and desire changed in the course of time.
The selected fictions allow a comparative examination of a wide range of different perceptions by women writers of the body, of gender, identity, love, desire and sexuality and the way these reflect the respective wider ideological framework. Close readings of these texts are complemented by selected references to a body of feminist literary theory.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

2 hours per week

Method of assessment

100% coursework

Preliminary reading

Indicative Reading List -

Suggested Reading:
Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights
Colette, Chéri
Katherine Mansfield, Bliss [short story]
Katherine Ann Porter, Flowering Judas [short story]
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
H.D., Emily Dickinson [selected poems]
Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve
Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed
Francoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse

Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher [movie adaptation by Michael Haneke]

Theoretical Texts (extracts from selection below):
Carolyn Allen, Following Djuna: Women Lovers and the Erotics of Loss (Theories of Representation & Difference). Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1996.
Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992.
Mary Eagleton, Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader. London: Blackwell, 1995.
Alex Hughes, Kate Ince, Jennifer Birkett (eds), French Erotic Fiction: Women's Desiring Writing: 1880-1990. Berg Publishers: 1996. [Berg French Studies Series]
Sandra Gilman and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic The Woman Writer & the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press, 2000.
Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (New Accents). London: Routledge, 2002.
Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing. Virago Press, 1982.
Judith Squires, Sandra Kemp (eds.), Feminisms (Oxford Readers). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. London: Penguin, 2002.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will:
• have become aware of diverse aesthetic strategies for representing love, desire and the body in a number of different texts written by women from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds
• grasp the importance of the specific cultural, linguistic and historic contexts from which the texts spring and their impact upon the particular representational choices
• have an understanding of the complexities which inform the treatment of issues of love, desire, gender, sexual morality, sexuality and representations of the body in the respective texts
• understand the importance of prose fiction as a mirror of ideologies in general
• understand the significance of images and representations of women proliferated through literature in particular
• grasp key concepts of feminist theory

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