ENG 310 Seminar: Enabling Fictions: Writing Women's Lives

Sharon Seelig, Th 1:00 PM-2:50 PM

 “Why hath this lady writ her own life?” Margaret Cavendish asked in 1656, at a time when a woman needed a plausible, if sometimes fabricated, reason to do so.  We’ll consider a range of women writers and voices, from the early modern period to the present, as they construct the narratives of their own lives or those of their families, out of fact, fiction, romance, exaggeration, and equivocation.  Focusing on lives that occupy the margin of the supposedly separate realms of verifiable fact, subjectivity, and fiction, we’ll begin with work by Cavendish and several of her contemporaries, Lucy Hutchinson, Anne Halkett, Ann Fanshawe, and Mary Carleton (aka “The German Princess”); and then move to more recent examples, both fictional and autobiographical, from the 18th through the 21st centuries, including such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Marjane Satrapi. 

 These primary texts will be supplemented by secondary sources, to contextualize the women’s lives we’re reading, and to help us think about the relations between “fact” and “fiction.” Members of the class will write informally, in preparation for our weekly meetings, and at least once during the semester will take the lead in presenting, or helping to present, a writer whose work we are considering.  Grading will depend on participation in discussion; class presentations; a shorter paper (approximately 6 pages) due around mid-term; and a final research project, presented in class and leading to a paper of approximately 15 pages.

Please email sseelig@smith.edu during registration period for an application form.