Faculty of Arts


Women's Texts of Experience

Please note: this is archived course information from 2012 for ENGLISH 205.


This course analyses a wide range of texts created by women, focusing on the connections between autobiography, fiction and artistic expression. Using a variety of critical approaches, the course seeks to explore how contemporary women artists transform established myths, genres, literary tropes and filmic conventions in order to give voice to their own experience. Students in the course are encouraged to engage with these transformations on a critical level and use their journal entries to work out their own conclusions.

Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own establishes a critical framework for the course’s concerns. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar introduces the question of autobiography and its fictional representation, and Jeanette Winterson’s debut novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit can be seen as an unorthodox take on the female Bildungsroman. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies uses the short story form to convey the breadth of the contemporary Indian experience, and Lynda Chanwai Earle’s play Ka Shue/Letters Home evokes the experience of the New Zealand Chinese diaspora through the writer’s family history. Janet Frame’s posthumously published novel Towards Another Summer returns to the problems of migration and diaspora as well as the tensions between autobiography and fiction.

The discussion of film in the course focuses on questions of filmic representations of women’s experience, in particular in relation to the theory of the gaze. The course explores the multiple ways in which women filmmakers challenge the traditional conventions of the filmic gaze in order to represent female desire and woman-centred point of view. The work of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois (as seen in the documentary feature The Spider, The Mistress and The Tangerine) can be interpreted as a similar deconstruction of received artistic conventions.

The course aims to heighten the students’ awareness of the work of contemporary women artists and develop their critical abilities. The journal assignment, worth 40% of the final grade, enables the students to engage with the texts and include their own reflections on the issues raised by the course. The essay, worth 60% of the final grade, allows the students to use critical approaches in order to discuss the texts in more depth and detail.

NB: enrolment is limited to 50 students, with admission on a first-come, first-enrolled basis.

Availability 2012

Summer School




Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies.

Lynda Chanwai Earle, Ka Shue/Letters Home.

Janet Frame, Towards Another Summer.

Jane Campion (dir.), Sweetie.

Niki Caro (dir.), Memory and Desire.

Andrea Arnold (dir.), Fish Tank.

Marion Cajori & Amei Wallach (dirs.), Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress and The Tangerine.

Anthology of short stories, poems and non-fiction writings - to be distributed.


Coursework only


ENGLISH 205: 15.0 points


Any 30 points in BA courses or Certificate in Women's Studies



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