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Unit information: Sex and Gender at the Fin de Siècle in 2016/17

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Unit name Sex and Gender at the Fin de Siècle
Unit code ENGL20055
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Emily Coit
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


At the turn of the nineteenth century, literature was the site of a high-stakes battle to define ideas about gender that governed private and public life. Taking a transatlantic perspective, this unit will consider literary works from Britain and America that intervene in those debates. Giving particular attention to figures such as the New Woman, the dandy, and the imperial mother, we will read novels and short fiction against the backdrop of contemporary writing in the emergent fields of sexology and anthropology, as well as medical texts about the proper care of gendered bodies. Emphasis will be placed on the contiguity of these scientific discourses with literary discourses, and on the participation of both in the larger projects of American and British imperialism. Readings will range broadly: from decadent celebrations of the sterile aesthete, to anti-feminist calls for the higher education of women, to feminist endorsements of racist eugenics. Our consideration of these readings will aim to illumine the history of debates about identity, gender, sex, and reproduction that remain unresolved in our own time, and to disrupt the assumptions that set the terms of those debates.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have demonstrated:

(1) detailed knowledge of a range of literary works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries;

(2) critical thought about the construction of gender in literature;

(3) a critical understanding of the social and cultural conditions of literary production in the US and the UK in the given period;

(4) a critical understanding of relationships between scientific and literary discourses;

(5) strengthened skills in academic writing, close textual analysis, argumentation, and evaluation of evidence from primary texts and critical literature, appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

1 essay of 2000 words (40%)

1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both essays will assess ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Henry Adams, Esther (1884)

H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure (1887)

Oscar Wilde, Salomé (1894)

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (1990)