Episodes in Literary Cultures
Thinking about Sexuality with Novels
Novels can tell us stories in which the sexuality of various characters is a prominent feature, or even the central problem of the novel. Novels can be built in many different ways. They can tell their stories in many different ways. By doing so, they can help us think about what kind of a phenomenon sexuality is. In other words, novels can help us think about issues like sexuality by the way they tell their stories, by the way they give them form. We know people experience sexuality differently. We know people experience different sexualities. We know sexuality is experienced differently in different times and places. We know sexuality is experienced differently at different stages of life and in different social circumstances. In the stories we tell and are told, sexuality is never just a thing on its own. It is tangled up with other social variables like gender, age, class or status, cultural identity, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, political commitments, professional ambitions, and so on. Novels, this course will endeavor to show, can help us understand entanglements like these. Perhaps there are even things we can best understand about sexuality by studying novels. We will be reading one short story, Ursula Le Guin’s “Solitude,” along with a group of novels written between 1925 and 2016.
Novels: André Gide, The Counterfeiters, Virginia Woolf, Orlando; Willa Cather, The Professor’s House; James Baldwin, Another Country; Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman; Patricia Powell, The Pagoda; Ali Smith, How to Be Both; Sjón, Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was