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Teachin'Mine

Great books for girls?

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My dd loves to read' date=' but finds that many of the great books are not to her liking. Has anyone dealt with this and come up with a list of books that might work better with young ladies? Even finding classics that she enjoys is challenging.[/quote']

The purpose of the great books education is pretty much familiarization with the canonical works, less so than personal joy. That being said, "the canon" is so broad that it's certainly possible to adapt it a little to your daughter's taste, but I wouldn't give up on any of those works Nan mentions. Especially keeping in mind that some of them weren't written by men for men (Homeric epics, which actually present a paradigm of orality, i.e. not a written culture at all, and not at the exclusion of women; or even Gilgamesh, in its mythological structure).

 

Generally, I don't like this whole gender debate in literature, though you can certainly find many earlier works that address it (Italian Renaissance is superb for that, you have a flood of texts written by women "for women" in all sorts of genres, but I don't know how much of that is translated); I never view literature as consisting of works for men and works for women. Except maybe Tolstoy, as there does seem to be a sort of pattern of men loving War and Peace, and women preferring Anna Karenina.

 

Try with theatre, seriously; the theatre of classical antiquity, both tragedy and comedy, is generally accessible to girls as well. You can also find much lyric poetry - get what's left of Sappho, Ovid is WONDERFUL (Metamorphoses are brilliant and Tristia are also very nice), Roman comedy is great. Try ancient Greek novels too. Or get more "feminine" parts of the Bible (Ester is probably the best example :D; Judith of apocrypha; Yael/Deborah, etc.). Girls might stand Odyssey better than Iliad too. Aeneid is good, try canto VI, and then connect the descent to Hell with Dante. All of Dante is VERY loved by women - specifically try canto V of Inferno, all of Paradiso; sonnets for Beatrice. Petrarca, no matter how steoretypical, is wonderful too, and so are many petrarchist poets after him (both male and female - take Michelangelo / Colonna example, and the relationship between them). Boccaccio. :D Racine and Corneille, rewriting of the myths of classical antiquity in drama. Calderon - Life is a Dream is my favorite, though there are many good stuff by him. Moliere is great, Schiller, drama in general. In a more modern age, I guess you don't have much issues finding stuff she might tolerate better.

 

I guess I could add more suggestions, but you'd need to be very precise about the epoch, or thematic framework.

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LOL - Don't read my response in the other thread. Instead, read this list. It is much better and says much the same thing. There is a Greek play that has for a subject what happens to the women after the Trojan War, for example.

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There's a book called Rediscovering Homer in which the author speculates that the Iliad and Odyssey were written down by a woman based on oral traditions.

 

"British historian and linguist Dalby has dipped deeply into classical literature and the relationship between oral and written traditions. One of his startling arguments here is that the Iliad and Odyssey were probably written by a women, which explains why they are so much better--more subtle, more complex, and more universal--than other epics of the period. Other opinions may also be controversial, he warns, in his tour of the poems' structure, purpose, original audience, and later transmission."

 

I'm not terribly convinced that men can't write in subtle and complex ways, but it may be that this mini review didn't give the full story.

 

Other books you might try:

My Antonia

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Old Man and the Sea (it's short and not too hard to read)

Jane Eyre

Pride and Prejudice

Emma

Tess of the D'Urbervilles (although, that's definitely dark)

you might also try some Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South or Mary Barton, for example)

 

Pride and Prejudice and Emma are funny, so they might be more appealing. Jane Eyre and Tess have some deep themes that one could discuss. Jane Eyre has a much happier ending, though, so I'd be more inclined to suggest that one.

 

My daughters actually liked Gilgamesh.

 

You could also try some modern retellings that would introduce the "classics":

Lavinia (about the Aeneid)

The Red Tent (about Jacob's family in the Bible - but there is some sexual content)

The Penelopiad (I can't recall now how violent/sexual this was)

My kids got more interested in reading the originals after reading these.

 

Maybe once you found a few things that appealed to her, she'd be more open to branching out and trying a few other things.

 

Elizabeth Vandiver also does some nice lectures on Greek tragedy (for the Teaching Company) that talk a lot about the plays that feature women.

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How old is she? Since she prefers happy endings, and more positive tone, perhaps she just isn't ready for the more mature themes. Which is totally fine.

 

These aren't "great books" per se:

 

Shakespeare plays (Nan mentioned these in her original post); my daughter (11yo) enjoys these

 

romance-type 19th cent. British novels:

Jane Austen, all

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope

Dickens, "lighter" ones: Our Mutual Friend, Pickwick Papers

 

American authors:

Up From Slavery, very positive

Ben Franklin's autobiog.

Mark Twain is humorous and not particularly dark. We have a volume of his short stories and they're very funny.

 

Animal novels with happy endings:

Wind in the Willows (should be revisited by everyone in adulthood!)

Lad: A Dog (I think it's happy? now I can't remember)

Incredible Journey

James Herriot stories

 

... I've been wondering how high school will play out for my 11yo dd. I definitely prefer the more masculine great books, and so did my teenage boys. I feel somewhat at a loss as to what dd will read as she already doesn't like the books the boys did. Although I'm reading the Odyssey aloud with her and she's enjoying it. I think going slowly, and explaining as we go, and pointing out the humor/irony/etc, as if it were "a normal book", is helping.

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A few thoughts:

Some great books are just so important as cultural cornerstones, because much literature and art is based on the themes and references them - so even if she does not like them, I would require her to become familiar with them to enable her to understand allusions elsewhere. The Iliad is definitely one of those. There are prose retellings and adaptations of the Iliad, some from the point of view of women. If reading is tedious, listening to an audiobook will work.

Also, one element of great literature is that it deals with fundamental problems of the human condition - which means that great literature can not always have a happy ending. Life just is not this way. I think a high school student needs to learn to deal with this.

 

A few classics that might appeal to her - because they are either with a female focus or have a happy ending or an upbeat tone:

 

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma (which are all wonderful and very funny)

Shakespeare's Midsummernight's Dream

Qscar Wilde The Importance of being Earnest

Chaucer Canterbury Tales

Bocaccio Decameron

 

Mild adventure, great story lines and easy readability:

anything by Mark Twain

Alexandre Dumas (Count of Monte Christo, Three Musketeers)

Victor Hugo (Notre Dame, Les Miserables)

 

I'll b e able to think of more, but have to run now.

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With all due respect, this is not an issue of whether there are books for (that appeal to) women and books for men. This is about a culture of literature production and canon formation that has, until relatively recently, excluded women as full participants in a number of ways: as well-rounded characters in their own right, as readers, and as writers. It is also a culture that has privileged certain genres at the expense of others, and particularly in the American literary tradition, looked down on satire and comedy while elevating tragedy as the real, "serious" literature of the day.

 

These are very sweeping statements, and of course there are exceptions; but they remain exceptions. What the OP's daughter noticed and commented on is an issue that has been at the heart of the past thirty years of literary theory and historical research in a number of universities.

 

For instance, here's a brief illustration by way of canonical scientific history. Today JennW and I were having a conversation about a biography of Mary Anning we'd just read. For those of you who don't recognize the name (and there's a reason you don't), Anning was a Victorian working class woman who discovered some of the first dinosaur fossils in the cliffs of southern England, fossils that were critically important to a generation of men who developed theories of evolution and geologic origins. Anning was barred from appearing in the lecture rooms of the society devoted to discussions of her finds (even had she had funds to get to London), barred from a university education, and with absolute consistency denied credit for what she accomplished. She dissected sea animals that washed up on the beach to get a better understanding of the anatomy of her fossil finds, guided Oxford men around the beaches teaching them about where to find the fossils, understood minute variations that led to classifications as different species, and in general showed the makings of a superb natural historian. But she faced insuperable barriers due to her poverty and to her gender. She was written out of the natural history books and even out of museum exhibit attributions of the fossils she discovered.

 

Similar things occurred in literature and the formation of the literary canon. It's a huge problem, one that several generations of scholars have now devoted themselves to studying and remediating. I think it's important to talk to high schoolers about the fact that this exclusion on the basis of gender did occur -- for instance, in Britain women were barred from classical educations and thus were unable to enter into the classics-based conventions of genres that were classified as "high" or elite culture -- wrote anonymously or using male pen names, or wrote in genres which have been excluded from consideration, not only in literary canons but in history, science, and religious writing as well.

 

One easy resource for finding women writers who are now considered part of the British literary canon, at least, is the Norton Anthology. The Norton lags somewhat behind current research, but the table of contents has changed dramatically in the past twenty years or so, reflecting a recognition of the gender and class politics of canon formation. It's a good place to read a few pieces or excerpts by women, many of whom respond to the male classical tradition in really interesting and explicit ways. Reclaiming these responses allows us to see a long dialogue, a debate, between the makers/keepers of the canon and the women who become frustrated with their exclusion -- rather than just a long, sad history of exclusion.

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I don't really take gender into account when I choose our literature. I only have girls but we read all of these books on the 'boy' list. My daughter just finished The Iliad as a matter of fact. Maybe if she was young and learning to read I'd encourage you to choose books that would appeal to her as a girl, but she's a high school student now and she needs to read books for their literary and academic value, not because she finds them joyful. My girls either will or have read all the books you list as 'men for men' books. We haven't had any trouble because I don't really categorize things that way. Actually I think if I told them I was going to choose something else because these are more 'male' books and I would choose something more 'female' they would both get bent out of shape and insist they read the 'male' book. I have strong-willed women in my house :-).

 

I understand her wanting more happy stories but not everything can be that way. You don't have to start with the most difficult works, but I'd encourage you to start getting her used to other types of literature as well.

 

Heather

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You listed some great suggestions - thank you! I remember seeing the movie Count of Monte Cristo in junior high. It was that same year that we saw the Pit and the Pendulum. Those images have stayed with me all these years. I wish I was homeschooled and could have made my own choices. :tongue_smilie: Thankfully my daughter is and can. :)

 

Oh I loved both the Count of Monte Cristo and the Pit and the Pendulum. Poe is one of my favorite. My oldest read Count of Monte Cristo over the summer for fun. She really enjoyed it. Maybe seeing a movie is too depressing compared to reading it.

 

Heather

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Lately I have been studying patriarchal vs matriarchal societies. The great books lists, even when they include books written by women for women...are still patriarchal.

 

For my cultural literacy type reading right now, I am focusing on short stories instead of novels. The truth is...I'm not so impressed by a lot of the stuff that white men have decided is so important. As well being shorter, so easier to just plough through, the short story canon is far more influenced by women than the novel canons.

 

My main reason for reading right now is to learn to write. I'm finding that concentrating on the short story canon is a more efficient way to reach my goals. And more gender balanced.

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There's not a lot from ancient women writers, and some of it you might not want your daughter reading, at any rate. Here's a list of ancient women:

 

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/womenwritersancientworld/tp/ancient_women_writers.htm

 

Here's more info on Sappho:

 

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/sappho/a/sappho.htm

 

Here's another ancient woman poet,Nossis:

 

http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_gkanth_nossis1.htm

 

 

Here's some info on medieval women writers:

 

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/writersmedieval/tp/medieval_writers.htm

 

Shikibu wrote the Tale of Genji, considered the first novel (or love story) in the world. But again, you might not consider it appropriate for your daughter....

 

Anna Comnena wrote interesting history, but I'm not sure her works are available to the general public. A Vanderbilt professor who specializes in her wrote the book entitled Anna of Byzantium which is pretty good (not a great book,, however).....

 

Teresa of Avila wrote works of mysticism that might still be available today.

 

Margery Kempe wrote a book that might be available today. She was also a mystic....

 

 

Here are books by women writers of all periods that are actually still in print:

 

http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/biblio/theobib2.html

 

I don't think you'll really start to find books by women that are considered part of the official "great books" list until you get into the early modern period....

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Heather, as I've said, I've never thought of literature as being for one gender or another. I've both seen the movies and read the books. Regarding the Pit and the Pendulum, I don't care to do either ever again.

 

How boring life would be if we all thought the same! :)

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Thank you Regina! The writings of St. Teresa of Avila is a great suggestion! My dd loves reading biographies of the saints and their own writings, or diaries, as well. Now those are some great books!!! :)

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"I'm not terribly convinced that men can't write in subtle and complex ways, but it may be that this mini review didn't give the full story."

 

Neither am I, especially when it is something that was probably repeatedly improved over time as it was retold. I think that in the end you wind up with a smashingly good story.

 

-nan

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Honestly' date=' I've never thought about whether a book is for one gender or another any more than I've thought whether physics is more for boys than girls - the title of this thread came as a response to Nan's comment about some of the great books her son had read. [/quote']

 

I did not mean your original post or title -- I meant some of the responses that indirectly found your dd's original comment problematic; some posters thought it was silly to think in terms of whether classics were appealing to women readers, wanting books that reflected women's experiences or were somehow "feminine" in approach. I found your dd's comment a perfectly reasonable stance and was trying to point out that it is a stance shared by overwhelming numbers of women writers throughout historical periods, as well as by quite substantial numbers of readers, scholars, and critics.

 

I was thinking about this today in terms of The Iliad, in particular about the issue of whether some of the themes are indeed universal ("timeless" and appealing across cultures) and genderless. Indeed some of them may be. But many are not. It got me thinking about the whole idea of the representation of war and associated themes of courage, loss, grief, loyalty, etc. The particular, gendered way that vast majority of women throughout history experienced war is the way that women in the Congo are experiencing it today, which puts a different spin on the themes above.

 

This is of course not at all to say that women (or people of different ethnic backgrounds or class positions) can't find enormous richness and food for thought in the classics. But they may also find frustration and negation; and it's greatly worth while to explore and discuss this dual reaction.

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She has no interest in things pertaining to war in general' date=' although she enjoyed most of the Chronicles of Narnia including Prince Caspian. She also enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy and others. But other than those, she's enjoyed Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and books of that nature. She's read and enjoyed Call of the Wild, and suffered through Around the World in 80 Days, but these are the exceptions. Dante and the descent to Hell would give her nightmares! She's more concerned with content than anything. Even Great Expectations was started at my urging, but she found the whole thing very depressing and dark. So I had her watch the movie to see if it would spark any interest, and it only cemented her opinion. To be honest, even though I had read it for school, I agreed with her assessment. Well written for sure, but the content I could have done without. Then again I feel that way about a lot of the literature that was assigned for school. Much of it was disturbing. Poe, Catcher in the Rye - so many were not what I would have chosen or would suggest for my daughter. I know that none of the books I've mentioned are "great books", but they're the examples I can come up with.[/quote']

Teachin'Mine,

I have the same problem with my 9th grade dd. Back in july, a 7th grade cousin suggested dd read a "great book" he had to read for school. Dd ordered the book (listed below) from the library, and after reading it she was so disturbed by the book, she had nightmares so bad she begged me to sleep with her... because she was staying awake all night in her room. The first night I slept with her she would wake up EVERY hour from a nightmare. This went on for weeks. It has gotten better, but I am still sleeping with her every night. It breaks my heart and makes me so angry that a "book" had this kind of affect on my dd!

This week is the first time she has read a book on her own for fun, since she finished the nightmare book. It was a book she had read in the past, she loved, and knew to be safe. That is over 3 months she went without reading a book... she hasn't gone over 3 hours, since she was 3yrs old without reading a book.

My dd has read all the books you have listed above, except the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Early in the spring, my dd pick up on-her-own Great Expectations and started reading it, but put it down because it was so depressing. And Poe, dd doesn't even like to hear his name mentioned. Dd read a picture book about Poe last year when we were studying poets.

Dd has what she calls "sympathetic compassion" for people (and book characters). She feels very deeply, every emotion...she is very tenderhearted. I think it has a lot to do with her artistic/poet/writing abilities. She can do all three effortlessly. I think, I need to find a book to read on dd's type of personality.

I said all that to say, I don't know WHAT I’m going to do about all the dark, depressing and disturbing books dd "needs" to read for lit in high school!!! How can I, as a mother, knowing the terrible, disturbing and extreme affects this type of book has on my dd, ask her to read them?!?!?

All in the name of "education"?!?!? I know people will say she need to be a bit older, but she will never lose her "sympathetic compassionate" feelings. Its who she is!

I haven't read the replies to your post yet, I do hope you get lots of help on this one, because I can sure use all the help I can get too!

Thank you so much for posting your question!

The hunger games / Suzanne Collins

In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss's skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister's place.

 

 

------------

 

HIS,

Donna

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Donna, I have only read chapter 1 of that book and am still waiting for it from the library. YA fiction is probably the genre I will end out focusing on, as a writer, so am trying to read widely from that genre lately. I can imagine it would be a very disturbing book to sensitive young people :-(

 

When I was homeschooling my boys, I was a VERY conservative Christian and did not believe in setting aside much school time for stories. I expected my boys to entertain themselves with stories on their own time, or during free choice time, and they did. The KJV bible, biographies, letters, sermons, histories, etc, were what I taught for "literature".

 

Knowing all I know now, I do now think stories are important, and WOULD include them in my lesson plans...but...my boys did just fine not finishing ANY type of literary canon in high school. We covered most of the things talked about in the Great Books through Bible study and nonfiction. They turned out to be well educated young men spouting all the patriarchal white man world views, that are so prized by the other patriarchal white men they have the need to impress :-0

 

Yes, I would include stories now, high quality stories, stories included in the Great Books canon, but also stories from around the world, with special emphasis to include literature from matriarchal societies too.

 

Donna, there are alternative ways, many different alternative ways, to cover literature, without slavishly covering the western canon. I'm certainly no expert on this...but down the road looking back, you and your daughter may end out being very thankful that this book led you both to taking a different fork in the road.

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Donna,

 

Your poor dd!! She was really blindsided by The Hunger Games, wasn't she?!

 

Your dd doesn't have to read all those books. One of my boys is wired the same way -- sympathetic compassion is a great way to describe it, and I too can find books too depressing and disturbing. While great books are worthy for many reasons, for a sensitive teen it is a minefield. And not every work is going to affect your dd in the way you might imagine -- the poetic but gruesome and detailed battle scenes in the Iliad might just be tedium rather than nightmare inducing. You never know.

 

One of my strategies was to preview every single book I considered by reading Sparknotes first as it was a quick way to get a feel for lots of titles. Some I had read before, some I pre-read, but reading the synopses with my son's sensitivities in mind was really helpful in weeding things down to a few titles. My other son and I did this together when he was on a sci-fi kick but not ready for dark and dystopian settings.

 

If you would like to cover the basics of Western literary canon, there is a wonderful series of Teaching Company lectures called Western Literary Canon in Context. I've sometimes used those lectures to introduce works that we won't cover, simply so my boys have an idea of the title, author, gist of the plot, historical context, and why it is part of the canon. I think you can have some wonderful conversations about how these works make the cut, look at some of the disturbing elements in a clinical and detached manner, then if she wants to try them, read them together. This way she will know going in what to expect, and avoid the shock of the Hunger Game.

 

There are many wonderful literary works for your dd to read, whether great, good, or just popular fiction. I have approached high school literature with the belief that learning how to analyze and think about literature and how to write in response to literature is more important in high school than reading large swaths of the canon. Your dd has a lifetime to tackle those books -- I just turned 50 and finally read Moby Dick for the first time! A love of reading and an appreciation for fine writing should be nurtured along.

 

Hope this makes sense. I'm up and writing in the wee hours because of a bout of insomnia!

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I have approached high school literature with the belief that learning how to analyze and think about literature and how to write in response to literature is more important in high school than reading large swaths of the canon.

 

I agree.

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I just finished reading The Things They Carried and I'm in the middle of All Quiet on the Western Front. I've been reading them because I keep hearing that each of them is THE most important book of the 20th century. And you know what? They're just stories of people getting blown up.

 

Now, admittedly, there is a more in each of them than that, but why is it that books about men taking other men's bodies apart are considered to be THE most important books? Because the Iliad set our culture up to believe that was true? There are other books around with great writing as well, that have things to say about the human condition that are every bit as valuable, but that don't talk about war. But they don't get labelled as THE best books.

 

It is possible that the people saying these are THE best books are thinking it would convince people to stop going to war, and from that standpoint I can definitely see that they are very important books, but to be honest, do the people who make the decision to go to war even read these books? Or get the same point that others who read it got?

 

I'm not recommending either of these 2 books to my kids.

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Well LOL, first let me say that as a pacifist, I think everyone who is ever going to be in a position to make decisions about whether we go to war or not should be forced to read every graphic description of war in the world. But on a more theoretical note... I have three boys (ok - that doesn't sound very theoretical LOL but I'm getting there) and I watched how obsessed with weapons they were when they were little. They were the gentlest of people. In my household, we don't even kill flies, literally. And yet, they were somehow driven to play war. I think that the whole idea of a war is so traumatic, so far outside our everyday experience (if we are lucky), that it takes an absolutely enormous amount of dealing with, through play when we are little and through literature when we are grown up. Even just the idea that we have the power to hurt each other in a more individual way, within families and small towns, is central to play and to literature, both from the point of view of doing and the point of view of being done to and the point of view of having to continue living afterwards. I don't know why boys and men seem to bear the brunt of this, whether it is biological or cultural, but it seems to be a fact that even at this point in time, here where I live, they still do. Literature reflects this. Why are books about war considered so important? Because war or the lack thereof is of vital importance to person and to every culture. I wish it weren't so. I wish war didn't exist and parenting decisions were the central theme of most of our literature, but the sad truth is that those heartwrenching parenting decisions aren't nearly so heartwrenching if you are going to be killed tomorrow morning when you go to buy bread. Sigh. Ok. And now I will probably be blasted again. I should probably stay out of the gender discussions entirely.

-Nan

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I meant some of the responses that indirectly found your dd's original comment problematic; some posters thought it was silly to think in terms of whether classics were appealing to women readers, wanting books that reflected women's experiences or were somehow "feminine" in approach. I found your dd's comment a perfectly reasonable stance and was trying to point out that it is a stance shared by overwhelming numbers of women writers throughout historical periods, as well as by quite substantial numbers of readers, scholars, and critics.

That would be me, I assume. :D

 

I do think it is problematic, because I generally don't subscribe to the school of though which considers "feminine writing" to be somehow essentially different than "masculine writing"; likewise, given my slight preferences to analyze literature from its text rather than dealing with its context as if that context were the text, i.e. putting an emphasis on its form, I'm not at all inclined to consider it important whether the historical person who wrote the text was a man or a woman. In fact, if I didn't think of it as a blasphemy (I can't run away from my "typically Jewish" fearful adoration of the medium of the book :)), I would have suggested the OP to tear the books the way her daughter cannot see who wrote them, and give her a mix of literary texts of all kinds written by men and women and see how good she is at determining what's male and what's female writing. I actually did this with my kids a few times (not tearing books, but giving them such experts), and they reacted exactly how I "planned": it's impossible to know for sure and, in fact, for the work itself, it's pretty useless to know, since what defines it as a literary work has very little to do with historical person who's behind the narrator.

 

The canon is more or less definied; I consider the purpose of a high school education to be basic familiarization with it, regardless of what were the forces that made it be in its present form. Those are works which are not only, or not even necessarily, good, but they are influential, on the cultural level. I don't think high school is the period to deal with rewritings of the canon, tackling rather obscure pieces of literature at the expense of getting the basics down first, or even to have a sort of slight "feminist agenda" when picking books in the first place. I love Gaspara Stampa, really, there's some breathtaking poetry in her opus :), but that's the kind of writing you read in a specialized grad course, out of a particular interest in it, and if you ask me about 16th century Italian literature for the purposes of general education, which high school goals adhere to, I'd give you entirely different names, and it's extremely unlikely there would be women. But that's how it is - regardless of what made the canon be the way it is, there are certain societal expectations with regards to the general education that deal with "classics"; I think high school period isn't the ideal time to actively go against that traditionalist notion.

Question it - yes, absolutely (discuss what are the factors that contribute to the formation of the canon); point some other perspectives to our kids - sure; but I really wouldn't read Stampa at this point (in addition, maybe, to the "typical" readings - like OP asks here - with a child specifically interested in it, which mine at this point aren't), no matter how much I personally like it. It's just not general education, but a rather narrow field of a specific interest.

 

@ Donna: Get your daughter Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. It's a very accessible works that deals with, essentially, the question of "what's fiction". Becoming consciously aware of some the points Eco writes about might help your daughter in stepping back, emotionally, from what she reads.

I would also recommend some research on the formal theory in literature. :D I know I'm basically pushing my own agenda here by suggesting it, but seriously, it's one of the best ways to "step out" of a text. If you read a bit on it, you can discuss it with your daughter.

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Again, I'm not saying that there is "a feminine" kind of book/writing opposed to a masculine one, although clearly some women writers position themselves in opposition to the older, more exclusively male canon. I'm not advising anyone to search out works by women writers exclusively.

 

What I'm saying is that the theoretical and practical process of canon formation -- which is still ongoing and fluid, no matter at what stage you decide your personal canon is set or what past canon you like best -- has historically excluded women not only as writers but also as readers and full characters. I'm talking about a cultural process of exclusion, the way in which even women's responses to that exclusion have been reclaimed only with a great deal of hard work by scholars. I'm encouraging AWARENESS and DISCUSSION of this issue, which looms extremely large in British and American universities at any rate, and which shows up in the changes to the Norton Anthology over the years where students can see it in progress. It shows up in which books are in print in series like Oxford University Press, Penguin, and other university press reprints.

 

One of the women I wrote a dissertation chapter on, Eliza Haywood, is an early 18th-century novelist whose works, when I wrote in the 1990s, were available only in archives. I spent time at the UCLA special collections, in Oxford University Libraries, at the Huntington, and the British Library hunting down her texts.

 

Since that time a number of scholars have been working on Haywood. A number of her novels are now in print, one of which is included in the most recent Norton Anthology. She features in syllabi as a vital part of the early development of the novel and even more interestingly in discussions of Tory-Whig politics as they infiltrate literature. Early histories of the novel were exclusively focused on a very particular selection of male novelists at least in part because those were the works that were readily available and familiar. It took amazing work by people reading through the archives in many libraries over many years to bring texts like Haywood's into scholarly awareness. When her books first surfaced people didn't know how to read them -- they were so different from the tradition represented by the likes of Swift, Johnson, Sterne, and Smollett -- and the tendency was to dismiss them as therefore unreadable and second-rate. Again, it took a lot of work and thought for scholars to find a way to read her texts as commentary on that elite male tradition.

 

I'm not myself so interested in arguing about which canon is correct or best as I am in reading that dialogue and interchange between elite and non-elite texts, which often, but not always, takes the form of women's responses to the processes that keep them out of the canon. This CAN include defining a different kind of content from the elite male novel, or a different literary style; but it does not have to.

 

To describe so much of women's writing that has been recovered as "special interest" and "narrow" replicates the assumption that the elite male point of view and literary tradition is universal. Most literary scholars in the UK and the US do not consider this the case, as is reflected in the Norton Anthology -- which is a standard text for AP and honors classes.

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What I'm saying is that the theoretical and practical process of canon formation -- which is still ongoing and fluid, no matter at what stage you decide your personal canon is set or what past canon you like best -- has historically excluded women not only as writers but also as readers and full characters.

 

..........

 

I'm not myself so interested in arguing about which canon is correct or best as I am in reading that dialogue and interchange between elite and non-elite texts, which often, but not always, takes the form of women's responses to the processes that keep them out of the canon. This CAN include defining a different kind of content from the elite male novel, or a different literary style; but it does not have to.

 

To describe so much of women's writing that has been recovered as "special interest" and "narrow" replicates the assumption that the elite male point of view and literary tradition is universal. Most literary scholars in the UK and the US do not consider this the case, as is reflected in the Norton Anthology -- which is a standard text for AP and honors classes.

:iagree:

 

If the significance of "the canon" is that it forms a sort of "collective autobiography" of Western civilization, then what's left out of the canon can tell you just as much about the history and values of the civilization as what's included. I very much disagree with the idea that "the canon is pretty much defined." If the concept of "the canon" is a list of books that are foundational to our culture, then obviously the list will vary along with the culture — I would bet that if you asked a Russian mathematics department, a French philosophy department, and an Afro-American studies department to each come up with a list of the "standard canon" of Western writing, they would generate very different lists.

 

I think there is also a tendency to take the "Great Books" list as if it's set in stone, and that one must read these books (no matter how miserable the experience) in order to be truly educated. In fact, the "Great Books of the Western World" list was developed as a commercial enterprise by the University of Chicago in the 1950s, and the selection very much reflects the men who created it, and the times in which it was created. If the list had been created by UC Berkeley in the late '60s, I bet we'd have a very different idea of what the "Great Books" are. ;)

 

Jackie

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Wow, my dd is also what I call "sensitive/creative." She feels everything she reads. I don't know when/if we will be able to turn that off, it definitely happens in creative individuals. She is now in 11th grade and loves the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. When she was in 8th/9th grade, we did what WTM calls logic stage for her reading. She is reading "heavier" material now in 11th grade, but slowly eased into it. A lot of the lists in this thread are books my ds is reading in college with an English major, and she isn't ready for them. We're trying to remember all that she read in 8th/9th grade:

 

Yearling, she says its good, but has many very sad parts

Children's Homer, Padriaic Colum (better than no Homer at all, right??)

Tales of Ancient Egypt

Blue Willow (she read this in 7th grade, but it is a favorite)

Abe Lincoln Grows Up, by Carl Sanford

Homesick, Jean Fritz

Good Earth, Pearl Buck (little mature, but not bad)

Old Man and the Sea, Hemmingway

To Kill a Mockingbird (you could watch the movie, it condenses the book, but dd loved the book)

 

There are more, but I can't find her old assignment book.

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But doesn't a lot of it depend on what each person had available and read and then referred to when that person in his or her turn wrote? I'm not trying to make some sort of rhetorical point here, just trying to understand. That makes it sound like I don't understand and sympathize about that dead white males list. I do. My normally non-academic, non-critical extended family tore apart in rage a list of the 100 greatest books that my brother in law ran across in a newspaper a few years ago and cut out and stuck on his refridgerator. Much of our rage was over the fact that LOTR, a dead white male book, was not on the list, but it certainly didn't escape our notice that many of the books were ones all the female (and much of the male) half of the family considered dreary, boring, uninspiring, and often just plain yucky in a this-is-something-I-am-now-going-to-have-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-trying-not-to-remember sort of way, and that precious few of them were written by women. But that doesn't change the fact that many of the things refered to in the most commonly available Western literature were written by people who used and were influenced by people who were influence by people who were influenced all the way back to someplace around Med in a recursive sort of way, does it? Is this what Ester means when she says the cannon is more or less fixed?

-Nan

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If the significance of "the canon" is that it forms a sort of "collective autobiography" of Western civilization, then what's left out of the canon can tell you just as much about the history and values of the civilization as what's included.

If you take that approach to the canon, yes. IF. ;)

I very much disagree with the idea that "the canon is pretty much defined."

But it is, at least in Europe. And I'm not talking about "Great Books" project and its highly pretentious name.

 

There is a tradition of school readings. The list I had at school differed slightly from those my parents had which differed slightly from those my grandparents had, and so forth - differed in sense of adding some new works, or limiting a bit the old ones (e.g. limiting Roman comedy to a single work out of 2-3 that used to be studied). But generally, the lists have remained largely the same: literature as well as philosophy.

 

Sure, we can relativize, we can agree that Italian list won't equal an American one (the whole "Western civilization" is perhaps even an overgeneralization, given the diversity the term aims to cover), but we cannot say there aren't pretty much fixed, canonical readings expected to be read by an educated person, as well as a set of associations related to them. The same applies to the canons of music and visual arts.

 

My point is, it's totally irrelevant at the high school level how those readings came to be in the first place. That's university level studies - the whole "rewriting of the canon", this or that agenda behind the canon, etc. In high school, it's about reading a more or less defined set of readings it's agreed upon that have influenced your own culture - high school is not the time to study some obscure texts, but the time to go through your Dante, your Bible, your Ovid, your Mazoni and your Leopardi (I'm applying this to the Italian context, but you get the point), and through the texts which reflect those texts, through art works that reflect them, philosophy, it's a whole system. A biased system, certainly, but that's what one has inherited.

 

Picking required readings in high school in the key (imagine it musically) of "gender equality" or "minorities equality" (another American trend) or any other such key is, in my opinion, a catastrophic idea. Regardless of the potential literary worth of those readings. It's not the time to "fix the inequalities" in high school, it's the time to master the scheme and the paradigm one does find oneself in, in the context of a structured education. Literature is far from isolated field in this aspect; if you attended music school or had some other kind of a structured music learning, remember how that went - you studied solfege, harmony, classical rules of each musical form, and you practiced your instrument on the "canonical" pieces that musical pedagogy has put together. It was mastering the basics. Of course that, afterwards, many people went above and beyond and more deeply into what they learned - but the primary musical education IS about mastering to function within a particular scheme. Chinese pentatonic scales and their compositions were neglected, no matter how much inspiration somebody might have found in it later. Likewise, in literature, entire nations are neglected (even within Western culture), much of female writing is neglected, because it simply didn't have an influence profound enough. Didn't talk to other texts, had an echo in other texts, pertained into the spheres of music and visual arts, marked our culture in a specific way.

 

Nobody denies the existence of such works. Nobody even considers it an "illegitimate" interest to deal with them as a part of specialized study. But, Jackie, I'm talking about general education. High school. We can relativize all we want, but Dante is Dante and Beethoven is Beethoven, there ARE definite points one needs to "cover" in a specific culture. And high school is the time to cover those tips of the iceberg, BECAUSE they're tips which stand out and influence what we see as a landscape, even if we all understand there is a whole other part of the iceberg, much bigger, that we're actively ignoring. That's the approach most schools with canonical readings have - nobody "doesn't understand" that it's the tip of the iceberg we're dealing with, and people are well aware of how biased the perspective is. But the perspective IS such and such, in the broad context of our culture. And first one is to master that perspective, before getting on other levels below the sea, seeing how the world looks like from there.

 

I've dealt with some of that neglected literature professionally (and same thing KarenAnne says, works that you could find in one library in Rome in two copies, stuff of the kind), but I remain a very strong proponent of a canonical approach to high school literature, music, visual arts, philosophy. I think it's a mistake to give up on it.

 

But then we go back to our good ol' structured vs. unstructured education debate, and I gave up on that on these boards, as we'll probably never reconcile our beliefs with regards to that aspect. This thread, ultimately, comes down to that commonplace of our discussions here.

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But doesn't a lot of it depend on what each person had available and read and then referred to when that person in his or her turn wrote? ...

 

Much of our rage was over the fact that LOTR, a dead white male book, was not on the list, but it certainly didn't escape our notice that many of the books were ones all the female (and much of the male) half of the family considered dreary, boring, uninspiring, and often just plain yucky in a this-is-something-I-am-now-going-to-have-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-trying-not-to-remember sort of way, and that precious few of them were written by women. But that doesn't change the fact that many of the things refered to in the most commonly available Western literature were written by people who used and were influenced by people who were influence by people who were influenced all the way back to someplace around Med in a recursive sort of way, does it? Is this what Ester means when she says the cannon is more or less fixed?

-Nan

 

I'm not entirely sure what you are asking; but to give you an example, Shakespeare was certainly not canonical during his time or for some time afterwards. There have been a couple of fascinating books written that trace the rise of his popularity and his inclusion into earlier forms of the canon, including discussions of the bases on which this was done.

 

"The canon," or specific historical forms of it, were heavily influenced by the fact that classical education was available almost exclusively to upper-class men. They in turn defined what was an elite and worthy genre by its association with the classics. This argument can become somewhat circular! And of course it leaves out about four-fifths -- or more -- of the population of Britain and the US in terms of writers, readers with classical background, and the kinds of thematic material considered appropriately valuable.

 

Here's also where the story of Mary Anning, although it concerns science and not literature, is so telling. The men writing what were considered to be challenging, cutting-edge natural science often knew Anning personally; most had been downright GIVEN their fossils by her, had bought them from her and later resold them for huge profits, or had been guided to them and through their excavation by her; several had misidentified fossils and been corrected by Anning, who because of her intimate, daily knowledge of the rocks and fossils as well as her dissection studies knew more than they did about what they were looking at. Yet her contributions were utterly cut out of the official record, in exhibit attributions, in lectures before the Royal Philosophical Society and the Geological Society, in books.

 

I'm saying that a similar process of devaluation and exclusion of women as writers, readers, and characters occurred in the formation of the literary canon in all its various manifestations and revisions over the years. Before the advent of print and even for some time thereafter, in England a thriving culture of manuscript exchange existed. Some very unusual and fortunate upper-class women, usually those with older brothers who had tutors in Latin and Greek brought into the house, were also involved in the manuscript circles, exchanging their own writings with those of relatives and contacts of their brothers. When print culture arrived and/or as it became more acceptable to have one's elite work printed, guess which manuscripts got printed and which did not?

 

The formation of archives at universities, in which scholars of the 1970s through the 1990s found so much buried work by women writers and other forgotten work, happened to a large extent in the 17th and 18th centuries. But Virginia Woolf found all these neglected women's texts when she was reading in the British Library; in Common Sense and other essays she discusses this lost tradition of women's writing, and in A Room of One's Own she discusses some of the political and economic underpinnings of its perpetuation. If Woolf found it, anyone could. But as it happened, they weren't looking, because women's writing was largely considered insignificant. Woolf's attempts to reconstitute women as vital participants in the canon were largely unsuccessful. When the same older texts were brought to light by feminist scholars in the 1970s, there was a huge resistance against their inclusion in a revised canon (resistance which still is at work).

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But that doesn't change the fact that many of the things refered to in the most commonly available Western literature were written by people who used and were influenced by people who were influence by people who were influenced all the way back to someplace around Med in a recursive sort of way, does it? Is this what Ester means when she says the cannon is more or less fixed?

-Nan

Darn, Nan, you really have a talent of opening all kinds of questions that go outside of the format of the forum. :D

 

What Ester means is only somewhat what you write, though there is a "mirror room" element in the whole story: it's texts which mirror in other texts which mirror in other texts, all forming this very complex net in which one can't nagivate so easily. Much of our culture is indeed a mirror room, and in order to navigate it at least somewhat, one has to go through the most reflected works that one will stumble upon all the time.

 

In that aspect, yes, high school walk through that mirror room should, according to Ester and a bunch of other rigid traditionalists, deal with the most reflected works rather than a random politically correct choice to satisfy women, ethnic minorities, etc. It should also deal with those works in a chronological fashion, thus following a thread of, shall we call it, "thought", but a thought in a Hegelian sense of the self-developing idea.

I can't elaborate on it more - not in the format of the forum at least - but these are the basic ideas.

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Donna, just skip any of them that you think she can't deal with.

 

I am wired like that. I sympathize. Reading this reminded me that my boys edited out the more gruesome battle scenes and graphic descriptions of animal sacrifices out of The Iliad when they were reading it aloud to me.

 

There are probably lots of things she would like reading. I love doing TWEM because we can choose our own books. I chose very carefully. If it was boring and hard and important (in my opinion), we tried it. If I thought it would haunt us in a bad way, we skipped it. For this reason, we didn't read very many short stories. You could read some comedies. We did lots of those. Except for the comedies and scifi, we pretty much skipped any fiction or plays written after the A Christmas Carol. It is safer that way. I find that much of the fiction written for young adults is "poignant" - in other words, heartrending and haunting. Adults seem to like to write about what traumatized them as a young adult and then pass the trauma on to other young adults. To young adults facing similar traumas, this is probably nice and cozy and comforting. To the rest of them, it just spreads the misery around. I have read some of the local 7th and 8th grade reading lists. Yikes! Give me a "dry" classic any day. I survived high school literature by spelling badly and by being very, very young. Spelling badly got me bumped highest one year, lowest the next, through English classes, letting me skip 9th grade when the high class read Les Miserable, The Plague, Great Expectations, and some of the other upsetting ones. And being young let me read things like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Invisible Man and 1984 and not exactly miss the point (I was too good a reader for that) but not be upset by them because they were so far outside my world. I could relate to Beowulf and Hamlet much better, and because of their distance timewise, I survived reading them. I point blank refused to take biology.

 

I would preread carefully and then skip. I consider this sort of sensitivity a true handicap, just like dislexia, and don't feel guilty about making accommodations and modifications for it, just as we would for any other sort of disability. It just happens to be a very uncommon one, one anyone who hasn't lived with is likely to totally underestimate the ramifications of. Your best strategy, I think, is not to shelter her from real life tradgedies and realities outside your home but make home (and school if you homeschool) a safe place. This is what she will need to do to survive as an adult. She will need her own home to be a place to recoup and recover, not a place where there is the latest "sweeping saga" on the bedstand and horror movies are watched for entertainment and the tv is left on to the news channel and a newpaper with the latest tragedy awaits her on her doorstep.

-Nan

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My point is, it's totally irrelevant at the high school level how those readings came to be in the first place. That's university level studies - the whole "rewriting of the canon", this or that agenda behind the canon, etc. In high school, it's about reading a more or less defined set of readings it's agreed upon that have influenced your own culture - high school is not the time to study some obscure texts, but the time to go through your Dante, your Bible, your Ovid, your Mazoni and your Leopardi (I'm applying this to the Italian context, but you get the point), and through the texts which reflect those texts, through art works that reflect them, philosophy, it's a whole system. A biased system, certainly, but that's what one has inherited.

 

It's not the time to "fix the inequalities" in high school, it's the time to master the scheme and the paradigm one does find oneself in, in the context of a structured education.

 

The classification of certain texts as "obscure" is certainly a subjective value judgment, and a historical judgment. So is the classification of others as "canonical." I posted a bit earlier about the fact that we can trace the process by which Shakespeare's works became canonical; it was not necessarily a guaranteed or inevitable thing. Shakespeare's writings were once pretty obscure.

 

Neither the scheme nor the paradigm for literary studies in the US and UK are fixed. They're in flux. It's a bit more than the substitution of one different text here and there. And the entire process of re-thinking what constitutes a canon is linked to the recognition that its establishment was, and is, a political act.

 

I'm certainly nowhere arguing for destroying that particular version of "the canon" that is generally referred to here as Great Books. But just as you argue that any high schoolers can understand the theory of theater, so I'm arguing that any high schooler -- particularly one who is interested, as the OP's daughter seemed to be -- can understand that canons do not appear from nowhere or descend from above, but that they are made by particular people with particular agendas, that those who are not in power in those circles where such lists are made have no voice in its constitution, and that gender has been historically an enormous factor in the determination of these lists. As I said, this kind of information gets into prefatory material and the contents of the Norton Anthology, widely used as a high school text.

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Regarding the canon' date=' I think that just as we say we are what we eat, I think it's fair to say that we think what we read, experience, etc.. [/quote']

 

It's funny you should mention that -- I just deleted a post in which I talked about my feeling that knowing where one's "classics" come from is as important as knowing about where one's food comes from, how it is produced, by whom, and who profits from it.

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What Ester means is only somewhat what you write, though there is a "mirror room" element in the whole story: it's texts which mirror in other texts which mirror in other texts, all forming this very complex net in which one can't nagivate so easily. Much of our culture is indeed a mirror room, and in order to navigate it at least somewhat, one has to go through the most reflected works that one will stumble upon all the time.

 

 

 

And many, many texts by women perform that same mirroring function, but their contribution tends to be downplayed or overlooked.

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