Sexuality & the Novel: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”
This course will consider how sexual relationships form different communities and sustain them over time. To do so, we’ll look at how these relationships change the shape of 19th and 20th century narratives—from Jane Austen’s Emma, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Freud’s Dora, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, William Faulkner’s
Absalom, Absalom, to Todd Hayne’s film Far from Heaven, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Looking at these narratives as the means of reproducing, updating, and challenging the way of life organized around a sexualized nucleus, we want to ask some pretty basic questions as to who we think we are and the way to live good and happy lives: How does the novel enable members of an increasingly wide and diversified readership to imagine themselves as either men or women whose happiness rests on belonging to a household? Which sexual identities are stigmatized as a result of not so belonging? How do novels change the basis for and limits of heterosexuality to accommodate or resist economic change? What changes does our definition of love, along with our expectations for future happiness, undergo as a result? In the contemporary world, where less than 40% of the population of the US and UK live in a single-family household, does the novel offer an alternative model of sexual intimacy and social reproduction? I plan to fortify discussion with occasional lectures on relevant material from political, anthropological, and scientific theory (e.g., John Locke, Claude Lévi Strauss, Charles Darwin, William James, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Wendy Brown, Melinda Cooper, Lee Edelman, and others).