Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Well, where have we gotten to in the first two weeks of the course?
We are researching two literary genres - chick-lit and lad-lit - to see if any complementary relationship exists. Three possible ways of defining the genres were outlined: the essentialist, the genetic, or the functionalist. The course texts are arranged for a genetic definition: that is, they follow a chronological sequence that, research may or may not establish, follow an arc of development. A functionalist definition, however, is used for our operational purposes: to wit, the two genres exist by virtue of the market demographic by sex - a study, that is, in print culture. Individual students may prefer to develop an essentialist definition through their research contribution.
Our literary experiment is to analyse representative works to see if Charles Darwin's doctrine of sexual selection is a valid explanatory model for elements of the fiction. Here is Darwin's summarisation of his sexual selection mechanism:

The sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between the ndividuals of the same sex, generally the males. In order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; whilst in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the more agreeable partners. Descent of Man. 6th ed. (New York: Appleton & Co, 1898) 629

The inter-male rivalry that Darwin prescribes will, it is argued, put performance as a dominant theme in fictional representations of the masculine. The power of choice that Darwin configures for females has a literary manifestation in the "cad, curate or Colin Firth" model of romantic hero, with the female protagonist manifesting inner strength and the power, expressed dialogically, of character configuration.

We are currently analysing Charlotte Bronte's Villette as a literary masterpiece sui generis. Following an account of her life and background, and a close reading of the first volume, we will place the novel in the context of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and Ann Radcliffe's
Mysteries of Udolpho before resolving pertinent elements against the Darwinian hypothesis.

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