In a Guardian article dedicated to the publication of Natalie Haynes’ novel A Thousand Ships (April 29, 2019), Charlotte Higgins poses the question “why women are lining up to reboot the classics?” The article addresses the recent upsurge of literary texts by women authors who reinterpret the literary tradition of Greek and Roman antiquity, particularly the works of Homer and Virgil. In the last decade and a half only, authors such as Natalie Haynes, Pat Barker, Madeline Miller, Nikita Gill, Margaret Atwood, and Ursula Le Guin, to name a few, have undertaken such reinterpretations. All of these authors not only offer creative rewritings of stories that are considered foundational for the development of Western literature, but also adopt a critical feminist stance in order to expose the ideological biases of these stories and their receptions in a revisionist way. This revision is achieved by various means, most notably by foregrounding the perspectives of women characters whose silences permeate classical texts; in Higgins’ words, “[t]hey want to hear old stories told afresh, and they want to hear about women; and they want to do it because it might help us think about our own moment” (n.p.). This critical move connects to the tradition of feminist literary criticism which seeks to re-center women’s voices where they are relegated to the margins of literary expression—a move especially powerfully articulated by Hélène Cixous’ appropriately classicist symbolic image of a laughing Medusa. In this class, we will trace the development of feminist classicist writing by North American women authors of the 20th and 21st centuries who explore the Homeric tradition, reading literary texts by H.D., Margaret Atwood, and Madeline Miller through the lens of feminist theory and literary criticism, as well as classical reception studies.
Students will be expected to have read the respective texts in advance of the class and to come prepared to discuss their own ideas in relation to them. Please make sure that you have finished reading Helen in Egypt by the third session of this course.
You will need to purchase the following texts for this class:
H.D., Helen in Egypt. New Directions, 1974. ISBN 978-0811205443
Atwood, Margaret. The Penelopiad. Canongate Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1786892485 (please make sure to get the novel, not the play)
Miller, Madeline. Circe. Back Bay Books, 2019. ISBN 978-0316423885