Special Topics in Language and Literature: Virginia Woolf & Zadie Smith

English 390S-7.02

This seminar will bring two hugely influential and innovative writers – Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith – into sustained conversation. In 1924, Virginia Woolf famously wrote, “On or about December 1910, human character changed.” Looking back over 14 years, Woolf witnessed great social shifts defined by historical, intellectual, and political events. She witnessed World War I and the decline of the British Empire; responded to new theories of the human mind and memory; and considered how gender and class shaped the role of women in society. Her greatest novels embraced these large themes by developing new forms of literary language. We calls those forms “modernism” today. Zadie Smith is a contemporary inheritor of literary modernism and regarded as one of the

finest writers and critics working today. Her themes, like Woolf’s, straddle the relationship between literature, history, and politics. Her novels consider the role of identity (gender, race, class) in shaping social hierarchies; explore the relationship between public and private forms of memory; and display a commitment to formal innovation in keeping with the modernist injunction to stretch the novel beyond its previous limits. This course moves beyond paradigms of chronology in which Woolf influences Smith and Smith responds to Woolf. Rather, we will use the comparative context to think creatively about the relationship between experimental writing and experimental thinking. Texts to be drawn from the following list: Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Three Guineas, The Waves; Smith’s White Teeth, On Beauty, NW, Swing Time. Short stories and essays by Woolf and Smith may also make an appearance. Requirements: Midterm paper (5-6pgs); Final Paper (10- 12pgs); Occasional (3 or 4) Short Assignments (1-2pg); Active Participation in a seminar setting. ________________