Introduction to Gender Studies: 19-20th century

The aim of this class is to understand the articulation of gender as inequality between man and woman in the nineteenth century and how the patriarchal consensus was gradually destabilized by early feminist activists, thinkers, and writers. The class is going to be based on two texts by Virginia Woolf: her famous essay A Room of One's Own (1929) and her novel Orlando (1928). Starting from these texts, we will interrogate the literary tradition from a feminist perspective as Woolf invites the readers to do in A Room of One's Own: how relevant is it to literature that auhtors of the canon should be almost exclusively men? Were there women poets, playwrights, novelists at all? How is the representation of gender impacted by the imbalance of the canon? Can things be changed?... The novel Orlando gives us the opportunity to see how the category of sexual difference was itself interrogated long before Simone de Beauvoir or Judith Butler, by Woolf relying empirically on the genre of biography and by interrogating the relationship between experience and symbols. As early as 1928 she produced a narrative questioning the place of gender in the constitution of human identity and undermined the understanding of gender in so far essentialist terms. Each of these issues brought up by Woolf is going to resonate with source-texts from the nineteenth century in order to understand the feminist break of the twentieth century in relation to the history of gender representation since the nineteenth century.