“Reader, I married him.” As this famous line from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre reminds us, writers have long been preoccupied with matters of the heart. Courtship plots are everywhere, from the novels of Jane Austen to the “rom-coms” of the 1980s and 1990s to essays you can find every Sunday in the “Styles” section of the New York Times. For centuries, marriage was primarily an economic relationship, and love outside of marriage ended in humiliation or even death. But what happens when society expands the options for living and loving? What happens to the courtship plot when women choose not to be wives, or when people who once couldn’t marry now can? When couples are as likely to meet through Tinder as they are through mutual friends? In this course, we’ll explore what courtship plots can tell us about changing concepts of gender, sexuality, family, and freedom. We’ll start with fiction by Edith Wharton, one of the American literature’s keenest social observers (and, incidentally, one of the inspirations for the TV show Gossip Girl). By closely reading her accounts of love and marriage in New York’s high society at the turn of the twentieth century, we’ll ask what stories about eligible bachelors and old maids can tell us about a society’s values and beliefs. In our second unit, we’ll turn to more recent courtship plots that trouble traditional conceptions of romance, marriage, and the family. Our texts will include the story “Brokeback Mountain” (and scenes from the Oscar-winning film), short fiction from Pulitzer-prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri, and the viral New Yorker short story “Cat Person.” Using feminist theory, queer theory, literary criticism, and recent sociologies of dating, we’ll examine what new romantic possibilities—and problems—exist for couples today. Finally, in our third unit, students will pick a modern love story of their choosing—a novel, a memoir, a film—and, drawing on the work of critics and scholars, make an argument about what this story shows us about our society’s sexual mores.
Faculty: Margaret Doherty
School: Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Semester: Full Spring Term
Time: 10:30am - 11:45am Monday + Wednesday
EXPOS 20 213