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Women's Literature

All the author ladies.

Shmoop's Women's Literature course has been granted a-g certification, which means it has met the rigorous iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses and will now be honored as part of the requirements for admission into the University of California system.

Shmoop loves Shakespeare. We really do. We also love Geoffrey Chaucer, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, James Joyce, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens…zzzzzz.

Oh sorry, we fell asleep thinking about a bunch of dudes.

Our point? About 51% of the population is missing when we only study male authors. This course will show you that there's a whole different side to the story. We'll follow female writers from the Middle Ages to the present, and see if and how literature looks different through a lady's eyes.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Miss Medieval

This unit will start with Ovid's Heroides and then cruise on over to the Medieval Period, where we'll run into ladies like Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, and Christine de Pizan.

Unit 2. Women Who Rocked the World

In this unit, we'll be looking at these three women who rocked their worlds, through Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious, and Morals, Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Unit 3. A Novel Idea

Time to hit up the Victorians and the Romantics with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

Unit 4. Freedom for All

The women of this unit—Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman—offer all sorts of answers to the question: what does it mean to be free?

Unit 5. Hear Us Roar

This unit will tackle The Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf.

Unit 6. Browning, Dickinson, and Cather, Oh My

You guessed it. In this unit, we've got Willa Cather, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Emily Dickinson.

Unit 7. It's Complicated

We're square in the 20th century, and with it comes some names you might recognize: Zora Neale Hurston, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Maya Angelou.

Unit 8. Women's Lit After Women's Lib

In this unit, we'll be looking at some more contemporary female writers—including Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, and Tina Fey—and seeing what they have to say about life as a lady.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 6: Poet's Corner

In the event of an emergency, her collar doubled as a floatation device with a whistle and a light for attracting attention.

Get ready to be impressed. In this lesson, we'll meet Aemilia Lanyer and Mary Sidney Herbert, two English noblewomen around in the Renaissance who knew a thing or two about writing.

Mary Sidney Herbert (sister to Sir Philip Sidney of Arcadia fame) hung around some of the leading poets of her day. She even had a book club with Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir John Davies. The topic of these little soirees? Poetry, politics, religion, and who they were going to patronize next. Plenty of scholars think Mary was the muse for more than one of the men in the group. But she did more than just inspire—she created her own poems, too. Fancy that.

Another noblewoman, Aemilia Lanyer, was romantically involved with Queen Elizabeth I's cousin, Henry Carey. After she had Carey's child, Aemilia married Alfonso Lanier, who just happened to be the queen's musician. Our point? She definitely rubbed elbows with some of the country's most eligible and elite bachelors (and married gents for that matter). On top of that, Lanyer was the first woman in England to declare herself a poet. When she was 42 years old, she published a volume of her own stuff to prove herself. It talked lots of Big Deal Topics including religion, virtue, and the mistreatment of women.

These two are ladies to be reckoned with. And reckon with them, we shall.

Let's get to it.