Women Writers in 20th Century England

English 385

Spring 2005




Professor: Amardeep Singh
Email: amsp@lehigh.edu, amardeep@gmail.com


Course Description:


This course will approach a selection of novels by women writers in 20th century England. We will pay special attention to the writers' response to war, changes in social values (including marriage, sexuality, and motherhood), and the idea of female creativity. We will look at novels in several different styles, and discuss the role of women in artistic movements like modernism and postmodernism, as well as in politics (the controversies over colonialism, fascism, and communism). Writers include Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Rebecca West, Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing, A.S. Byatt, and Monica Ali. 


Required Texts

Virginia Woolf, The Virginia Woolf Reader
Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight

Doris Lessing, The Grass is Singing

Irish Murdoch, The Bell

A.S. Byatt, Possession
Monica Ali, Brick Lane




British modernism (Virginia Woolf)



            Basic dates: 1901, 1910, 1914-1918, 1922

            World War I

            “Shell shock” (Post-traumatic stress disorder); popularization of psychology

            “Modernist” vs. “modern”

            Bloomsbury group

            Hogarth Press

            Stylistic innovations: Experimentalism, Avant-garde, writing “coteries”

            Changing the fundamental structure of the novel


Women's Rights, condition of lower and middle classes 1910-1945 (Jean Rhys)


            Women's suffrage

            Sexuality, homosexuality: Obscenity trials (Oscar Wilde, Radclyffe Hall)

            New permissiveness, changing values

            Women in the factories during wartime

            Women in the anti-war and anti-colonial movements




            British presence in Africa (Doris Lessing)

            British presence in Caribbean (Jean Rhys)

            British presence in India/South Asia (Monica Ali)

            How colonialism affects British women

            The end of the colonial era (1947, 1960)

            Immigration from former colonies to England in 1960s-1970s

            Present-day Multicultural Britain

            Multicultural writing in Britain

                        Controversies: The Satanic Verses (1989), Behzti (2004)


Question of postmodernism

            Reuse/revision of old materials (Byatt)

            More commercially-oriented approach, even in “serious” fiction
Tentative Syllabus

January 18 First day of class; Introductions

January 20 “A Sketch of the Past”; “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”; “A Letter to a Young Poet”


January 25 Short Stories in the Woolf Reader; “A Room of One's  Own” excerpt; “Modern Fiction.” Response paper (3 pages) due: how is it still relevant?

January 27 “Professions for Women”; “Jane Austen”; “Life Itself”; “Street Haunting”; “How Should One Read a Book?”; Woolf's Letters


February 1 The Voyage Out

February 3 The Voyage Out


February 8 The Voyage Out

February 10 The Voyage Out


February 15 Finish The Voyage Out; Paper on Woolf due

February 17 Katherine Mansfield short stories


February 22 Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight

February 24 Good Morning, Midnight


March 1 Doris Lessing, The Grass is Singing

March 3 The Grass is Singing


March 8 Spring Break

March 10 Spring Break


March 15 Iris Murdoch, The Bell

March 17 The Bell; Paper on Rhys, Lessing, or Murdoch due


March 22 A.S. Byatt, Possession

March 24 Possession


March 29 Possession

March 31 Possession


April 5 Finish Possession; “Old Tales, New Forms” essay

April 7 Read Byatt'sMorpho Eugenia”; Short paper: Critical survey on Byatt


April 12 Monica Ali, Brick Lane

April 14 Brick Lane


April 19 Brick Lane

April 21 Brick Lane


April 26 Make-up day; Open discussions

April 28  Last Day of classes


May 5: Papers due.