Literary Representation and the History of Homosexuality


Course Convenor:  Prof. Peter Swaab

This course is taught in twenty two-hour seminars, and examined by an 8,000 word Course Essay. Enrolment will be limited to 30 students in all (approximately 15 from each year). The course will be equally open to all students regardless of sexual orientation.

The seminar format will probably vary from week to week, but typically the first hour will include a lecture-type presentation, followed by a group discussion based on a particular literary work. For some meetings, students will be asked to give 5-10 minute presentations. Bibliographical information will be provided each week by seminar leaders.

Gay and lesbian studies, like their main critical precursor feminism, are an important part of the contemporary practice of literary criticism. This course aims to survey and introduce the field, and to foster a critical understanding of its main tools of analysis and interpretation.

The course is partly historical, investigating different constructions of same-sex attachment in different periods, and partly literary critical, considering and exemplifying various methods of interpretation of literary texts (including those associated with ‘queer theory'). The inquiry will be shaped by such questions as these: Should this subject be studied in a compartment of its own, or is it a neglected part of the subject we already study and teach? Why have 'queer theory' and 'gay and lesbian studies' become so important in contemporary literary criticism? What's the difference between the two? How and why has homosexuality been differently stigmatised at different cultural moments? How have lesbianism and male homosexuality made common cause? What links homoeroticism and homophobia? What is the relation between minority sexuality and political power? Where might gay and lesbian literature go next?

The course will consider literature from classical times to the present day, including films, opera and drama. Male and female authors will be studied, probably including the following: Marlowe, Shakespeare, Wroth, Katherine Philips, Pope, Charles Churchill, Hogg, Whitman, Melville, Pater, Michael Field, Wilde, Carpenter, Lawrence, Forster, Stein, Auden, Cather, Woolf, Chandler, Highsmith, Tennessee Williams, Adrienne Rich, O'Hara, Ginsberg, Butler and Almodovar. ​