Instructor: Irina Popescu
Comp Lit R1A:1
J. DeAngelis & I. Popescu
In this class, we will consider texts that present ‘re-visions’ of earlier texts through adaptation and intertextuality. What new critical perspectives emerge when all or part of a narrative is redistributed in a different context? How do factors such as a change in genre, a change in historical or cultural context, or even a change in the gender of the author create a unique dialogue between earlier texts and later re-visions of them, and what critical purpose does this dialogue serve in each case? For example, we will consider the relationship between Charles Perrault’s seventeenth-century fairy tales and Angela Carter’s postmodern feminist versions of them. We will also consider Carter’s intertextual use of the violent pornography of the Marquis de Sade. What do the genres of fairy tale and pornography have in common? How do Carter’s re-visions develop interesting arguments about both?
All of the main texts on the syllabus were written by female authors, and a majority of the pre-texts were written by male authors. Questions concerning gender will therefore guide part of our inquiry into literary re-vision. Women spent ages on the margins of the authorial literary landscape, though they were frequently the subjects of men’s stories. In some traditions, the female body itself has been associated with rhetorical artifice, both frequently considered in need of regulation and control by men, as the male-authored texts on this syllabus will demonstrate. How have female authors re-treated women through literary revision? Specifically how have they re-treated the female body? In what ways might revising texts written by males be seen as an assertion of women’s intellectual authority? (‘Author’ comes from the Latin auctor, a person who was once considered to possess auctoritas, or ‘authority.’) What limits on such an assertion are posed by speaking from within the confines of previously written texts?
With respect to the medieval and early modern texts on the syllabus, we will also consider how issues pertaining to textual criticism relate to the main questions guiding this class. How is our modern conception of a ‘text’ altered by considering the fact that numerous medieval manuscripts and early modern printed editions offer different versions of the same story? How did the simultaneous circulation of multiple versions of the same story inform medieval and early modern reading practices, and how do modern editors grapple with the ‘problem’ of multiple versions? We will consider how these questions, seemingly unique to medieval and early modern textual matters, actually provide a basis upon which to formulate interesting questions about modern adaptation and intertextuality.
We will explore the topics above through active class discussion and intensive writing and essay revision.
Main texts, with earlier versions and influences in parentheses, include:
- Poetry by Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, Sylvia Plath, and others
- Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (the Bible)
- Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber (Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, Marquis de Sade’s Justine and Juliette)
- Caryl Churchill: Top Girls (various texts and artwork depicting the historical and fictional lives of the guests at the opening dinner party)
- Marguerite de Navarre: Heptaméron (Boccaccio’s Decameron, Jean de Meung’s part of the Romance of the Rose, Troubadour and Trouvère poetry)
- Jeanette Winterson: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (the Bible, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur)
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