Course Description

English 4378: Women Writers: Willa Cather

Spring 2013, T-Th, 10-11:30 Room 108C

Dr. Patricia Lee Yongue

Office: 221C   Phone: 713-743-2944



Course Description

We will take a rare opportunity to study exclusively the work of a female author, modernist American writer Willa Cather, who has generated a great deal of discussion since the 1990s over the appearance vs. the reality of her feminist positioning. The texts and subtexts of Cather’s fiction, particularly the portrayal of her female characters and their circumstances, respond to her insights into woman’s being in the world—as the object of the male gaze and trapped within the male narrative—and to her desire/need to sell books to as many readers as possible while still maintaining the integrity of her aesthetic, artistic, and intellectual perspectives.


In our study of Cather, we will read and discuss (ideally) seven of her novels and consider the complexities of her portrayal/construction of the female character. We will also integrate into our study specific feminist theoretical approaches and we will consider how Freud’s theories, however incomplete and outrageous with respect to female psychological development, were nonetheless important to Cather as well as to modernist writers in general. We will also consider the post-modernist psycho-linguistic theories of Julia Kristeva as they relate to female development, the maternal relation, and language. Cather’s biography will of course play a significant part in our study.


This is an advanced English course that satisfies three hours of credit in the English major and minor and is also applicable to the Women’s Studies minor. Students enrolling in this course must have completed the university Core Communication requirement. Competency in written English and composition at the advanced level is expected in all written assignments, including exam responses and essays. Students should also have some background in the analysis of literature, including the function of figurative language.


Learning Outcomes

1. Students participating responsibly will experience more intensely than in a multi-author course the genesis and art of a writer, and, in this case, of a female writer.


2. Students participating responsibly will learn aspects of feminist, cultural, and biographical criticism and methodology.


3. Students participating responsibly will gain experience in critical thinking and writing critically and in skills and behaviors necessary for good citizenship and for professional maturity and productiveness.


Required Texts

Alexander’s Bridge

The Song of the Lark

My Ántonia

One of Ours

A Lost Lady

The Professor’s House

Sapphira and the Slave Girl



Students will be responsible and evaluated for enlightened class discussion. The exact nature of the written assignments has yet to be determined. There will be a midterm (date and format to be announced) and a comprehensive final examination (format to be announced) administered on the date and at the time scheduled by the university. The final exam counts for 50% of the final grade.