Resarch and Writing Seminar: Women and Madness in Literature

Course Description: WR 100 and WR 150 make up a two-semester sequence of writing courses required of most Boston University undergraduates. They are designed to help all students acquire skills and habits of mind essential both to their academic success and to their future personal, professional, and civic lives. WR 100 and WR 150 are taught as small, topic-based seminars. The specific topic of this section of WR 150 is Women and Madness in Literature.

The idea of the “crazy woman” permeates television, movies, literature, and everyday life. In the past, doctors even attributed a number of “hysteria” symptoms (anxiety, insomnia, fainting, sexually “forward” behavior) explicitly to women’s biology. In this course, we will look at literary texts that show how social and political forces have also shaped the composition of women’s “madness.” Some questions we will explore together include: Who benefits from portraying women as mad? To what extent is “madness” purely a result of the mind’s function, and to what extent is it imposed by characters’ environments? Do we see this phenomenon in fiction and nonfiction today? Key readings include The Awakening (Kate Chopin), “The Yellow Wall-paper” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), and Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys).