So, here is what I know, so far. There are fourteen classes, but one needs to be an introduction. We meet for two hours each week. At the moment, I know I’ll be teaching the following:
- Woolf (some have already requested The Waves, but I’m not sure which I’ll teach),
- Gertrude Stein 1
- Stein 2: I’m giving her two weeks because I think she’s out of favor, challenging, amazing and worth more attention
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes and More
- another Harlem Renaissance woman--perhaps not Nella Larsen—that’s the slot that Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Jessie Fauset are “competing” for (I mean that with heavy irony—see below)
- Marianne Moore
- Jean Rhys, not Wide Sargasso Sea, probably not Good Morning, Midnight (since my colleague often teaches it)
- Katherine Mansfield, a generous selection of stories
- Elizabeth Bowen
- Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper & poetry
- Djuna Barnes, Nightwood & more
- a Persephone book (perhaps Betty Miller's Farewell Leicester Square)
- and then, I think I need another avant garde woman.
When you see how little room there is in a syllabus, you see literary turf wars in a different light. You see, in the end, how very little room there is for a “new” writer to make it onto the list. I write that Fauset and Dunbar-Nelson are up against each other with a bitter irony: I know almost nothing about either; both seem worthy, important writers; both could make it onto the syllabus in the end. They are just one example of a whole range of such mini-competitions between less well-known writers as I shape the course. It’s a class on American and British women, poetry and prose; I want a balance of styles and political outlooks, urban and rural themes, gay and straight writers … and so I keep looking at the list and asking myself if it’s fair. But fair to whom?
Here are some other ways of thinking about the list:
Moore and Smith are poets. Stein is nearly one: that’s just 4 weeks on poetry and poetic prose (excepting Woolf)—and we’ll likely focus more on Smith’s novel than her poems.
Because my specialty is modern British, I tend to favor that side of the Atlantic, but the list so far has only 6 weeks of Brits: Woolf, Rhys, Mansfield, Bowen, Smith, and Miller. I’m pleased that the list is as cosmopolitan as the first half of the 20th century in England can be: Miller (who is Jonathan Miller’s mother) was Jewish (among many other things) and Rhys (who was probably of mixed race) and Mansfield are both colonial.
Among Americans, I’ll do Stein, Hurston, Moore, and Barnes for sure.
I watch contemporary writers bicker and battle over prizes and reputations knowing that part of what is at stake is a legacy they will never see. That there will come a day when some future professor sits staring at her bookshelves, asking herself if she’s really going to ask a dozen young people to read a mostly-forgotten novel about the career and romantic struggles of a young black woman or a selection of short stories by a New Zealander who died young or a lesbian novel full of antiquated ideas about homosexuality or something else entirely.