Delivery mode : 



Tuesday 15h - 17h


B. Havercroft





In this course, we will focus on issues that are situated at the intersection of four major trends in contemporary feminist literary studies : 1) the unprecedented interest in autobiographical writings, sparked by a profusion of the actual publication of such texts and by the development of a large body of criticism dealing with the numerous forms of life writing; 2) the rapid evolution of specifically feminist theories of autobiography (Gilmore, Smith, Watson) over the past twenty years; 3) current feminist theories of agency and subjectivity (Butler, Druxes, Mann); 4) the recent theoretical inquiry into the category of gender (Butler, Robinson, Scott), especially as it is represented in the literary text.

The seminar will begin with a critical study and problematization of the principal concepts outlined in these four theoretical groupings. We will then proceed with close readings of several works of contemporary life writing, drawn from the French, Québécois and German literary contexts, emphasizing the diverse textual strategies by which female autobiographical subjects are constructed and, in turn, make a claim to agency. In many instances, textual subjects merge both fact and fiction in an effort to become subjects-in-process, subjects with multiple facets that challenge androcentric theories of the supposedly unified, sovereign autobiographical subject ( Gusdorf ), while juxtaposing the personal, the political and the social in their texts. Notions such as the relational self, the writing of trauma and illness, performativity in autobiographical writing, the « death » of the subject and the author, and the problematics of memory (personal, historical, cultural, etc.) will be examined. While the focus will be on various forms of women’s life writing, we will also analyze one male author’s AIDS diary, not simply to further investigate the gendered basis of all writing, but also to examine the particular forms of agency mobilized in autobiographical accounts of illness.

Primary texts:

Brossard, Nicole.  Journal intime ou voilà donc un manuscrit (Montréal : Les Herbes Rouges, 1998 [1984]).  English translation : Intimate Journal, or, Here’s a Manuscript; followed by Works of Flesh and Metonymies (Toronto : Mercury Press, 2004).

Ernaux, Annie.  La Honte (Paris : Gallimard, 1997).  English translation : Shame, trans. Tanya Leslie (New York : Seven Stories Press, 1998).

Guibert, Hervé.  À l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie (Paris : Gallimard, 1990).  English translation : To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, trans. Linda Coverdale (London : Quartet Books, 1991).

Wolf, Christa.  Kindheitsmuster (Berlin/Weimar : Aufbau Verlag, 1976).  Two English translations exist : 1) Patterns of Childhood, trans. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt (New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984; and 2) A Model Childhood, trans. U. Molinaro and H. Rappolt (New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980).

N.B. The original German edition and English translations of Kindheitsmuster are available in the University of Toronto libraries, or you may order your own copy.  English translations of Ernaux’s, Brossard’s and Guibert’s texts are available in the U. of Toronto libraries, or you may order your own copies.  See the course schedule document (to be distributed at the first meeting of the class) for further details.

A series of complete bibliographies dealing with the various different theories to be analyzed in this course will be distributed at the first
meeting of the seminar. Students are advised to prepare for the course by doing some preliminary readings :
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York : Routledge, 1990).
———. Bodies That Matter : On the Discursive Limits of « Sex » (New York : Routledge, 1993).
———. Excitable Speech : A Politics of the Performative (New York : Routledge, 1997).
Druxes, Helga. Resisting Bodies : The Negociation of Female Agency in Twentieth-Century Women’s Fiction (Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1996).
Eakin, Paul John. How Our Lives Become Stories : Making Selves (Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1999).
Felski, Rita. Beyond Feminist Aesthetics : Feminist Literature and Social Change(Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1989).
Gilmore, Leigh. Autobiographics : A Feminist Theory of Women’s Self-Representation(Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1994).
Gusdorf, Georges. « Conditions et limites de l’autobiographie », in Günter Reichenkron and Erich Haase (eds.), Formen der Selbstdarstellung : Analekten zu einer Geschichte des literarischen Selbstporträts (Berlin : Duncker and Humblot, 1956) : 105-123.
(English translation in James Olney, 1980).
Lejeune, Philippe. Le pacte autobiographique (nouvelle edition augmentée) (Paris : Seuil, 1996 [1975]).

Mann, Patricia. Micro-Politics : Agency in a Postfeminist Era (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1994).
Olney, James (ed.). Autobiography : Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1980).
Smith, Sidonie. A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography : Marginality and the Fictions of Self-Representation (Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1987).
——. « Performativity, Autobiographical Practice, Resistance », a/b : Auto/Biography Studies, Vol. 10, no. 1 (spring 1995) : 17-33.
Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson (eds.). Women, Autobiography, Theory : A Reader(Madison : The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998).
Watson, Julia. « Toward An Anti-Metaphysics of Autobiography », in Robert Folkenflik (ed.), The Culture of Autobiography : Constructions of Self-Representation (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 1993) : 57-79.


Written Response to a Theoretical Article: 15%
Oral presentation  (30 minutes) :  25%
Research paper (20 pages max.) : 50% :
Participation in class :                   10%


N.B. The participation mark will be based not only on regular attendance at the seminar, but also on ACTIVE participation in class discussions.