Teaching Literature on Female Friendship in the #MeToo Era

Published in Dawn’s Prism on February 18, 2019


My reason for designing an undergraduate literature course titled Female Friendship in World Literature was initially more personal than strictly literary: I have been shaped, in big ways and small, by the friendship of women in different moments of my life. On the emotional landscape of my personality, my female friendships have always loomed large, teaching me in ways both joyous and occasionally painful some of the most worthwhile lessons that I needed to learn in order to live in this world and in my own skin: how to love and care for another person while also honoring my own self, how to accept kindness and to offer it in turn, how to build a relationship that has enough room for both my own jagged edges as well as the other person’s.  Because I believe that literature should be studied for its ability to lay bare the complexities of life, I wanted to design a course that would look at this important aspect of my (and, I suspected, every other woman’s) life: literature that explored, in all their contradictions and complexities, women’s friendships with one another. 

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The Evolution of Children’s Literature

Last month it was announced that the beloved children’s author Enid Blyton’s series The Faraway Tree was getting its own film adaptation. The news came after a Famous Five film adaptation was announced in the summer, perhaps signally a revitalisation of Blyton’s vast and much-loved canon of children’s fiction.

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Sexism in Literature

Quick, off the top of your head, name five books that have gotten critical acclaim recently. Chances are the books you’ve named are mostly those written by a male author. ‘But that’s just because I read genres that are more male-dominated,’ you might argue.

Or, ‘Well, men write better books than women.’ Such arguments are overly simplistic (not to mention misogynistic, in the case of the latter) and ignore the deep-rooted sexism that is prevalent in the world of literature today.

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Musings of a Reader: The Handmaid’s Tale and Why Dystopian Fiction is Necessary

Published in Zau magazine in March 2015

Up until quite recently, I used to be one of those literary snobs. You know the ones I’m talking about – those who turn up their noses on “genre” fiction, pooh-poohing at the intricately-built worlds of fantasy or the implausibility and outlandishness of the crazy science of sci-fi. “What do those books have to do with the real world,” I would say to myself derisively, as I devoured book after book of “realistic” fiction. (The irony of the fact that the worlds of the realistic fiction I loved so much were every bit as constructed as the worlds of fantasy or sci-fi was, of course, completely lost on me.) It seemed to me a lazy escapist move to lose yourself in worlds that are so far removed from “reality” – from the social order and the issues within this social order that “realistic” fiction, I felt, explored and critiqued. What was fantasy or sci-fi or dystopian fiction if not a bunch of characters having wacky adventures in a world nothing like our own? Then, something happened that made me reconsider my (ignorant) position on at least one of these genres: I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Madame Bovary and Realism

In order to understand why Madame Bovary is hailed as an anti-romantic, realist piece of literature, and to what extent such a classification is true, it is first important to understand what realism in literature means. Literary realism is the attempt of literature to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality or elaborate artistic conventions and implausible or supernatural elements. According to the twentieth-century scholar Rene Wellek, the aim of realist literature is “the objective representation of social reality.”[1] The realist novel is concerned with contemporary life and everyday, commonplace scenes. It focuses on characters in a social setting and delves deep into their psyche. In terms of stylistic technique, the realist novel’s approach to its subject matter is straightforward and detached, almost analytic in its description of characters and events.

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Musings of a Reader: Regarding Characters and their Likeability

There’s a debate a friend of mine and I have regularly while we’re discussing books. Sometimes, she really dislikes a book I recommend (which totally breaks my heart, by the way, because, let’s face it, sharing a deeply loved book with someone is like sharing a secret, hidden part of yourself, and if that person doesn’t like it, it’s like a rejection of the worst kind), and more often than not, her reason for not liking the book is: the main character was so unlikeable. Now, this friend of mine has awesome taste in books and I totally respect her opinions on most things; but, on this one point, we always just agree to disagree. My argument is that the presence of an awful, hateful character doesn’t mean the book itself is awful. And besides, why does a character have to be likeable anyway?

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