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ML2403 Gender and Clothing in Twentieth-Century Literature and Culture

Terms 1 & 2

Convenor: Dr Ruth Hemus


Formative task: 0%

Essay 1: 30%, (1,500-2,000 words)

Essay 2: 70%  (2,000-2,500 words)


This course involves an examination of gender as it is expressed, maintained, or challenged by clothing. It investigates a variety of Anglophone, Francophone, and German-language twentieth-century texts, including novels, fine art, and film, in which clothing and gender are closely linked. The course introduces students to a range of experimental and challenging texts, encouraging critical and comparative thinking about the place of fashion and clothing in culture and society.

Teaching is organised in four blocks. The precise course outline is determined by teaching availability and research interests. Sample blocks are outlined here:-

‘Uniforms, Glamour and Gender-Bending’

The film Mädchen in Uniform/Girls in Uniform (1931) offers the basis for an examination of connections between uniforms and gender construction in the German-language context. Irmgard Keun’s Das kunstseidene Mädchen/The Artificial Silk Girl (1932) further highlights questions of clothing and identity in early twentieth-century narratives, foregrounding questions of fashion and consumerism.

‘Clothing and Identity in recent European Cinema’

Films for discussion include William Klein, Qui êtes-vous Polly Maggoo / Who are you, Polly Maggoo? (1966) and Jean-Pierre Melville, Le Samouraï / The Samourai (1967). Luchino Visconti’s Senso (1954) is discussed as an example of costume drama. Further contexts include the May 68 cultural revolution, in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s, Teorema / theorem (1968) and sexuality/androgyny in Post-Franco Spain, in Pedro Almodovar’s, Kika (1993).

‘Clothing and Gender Identity in the Novel’

This block explores drag and cross-dressing in the English-language novel. Novels for discussion include Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) and Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet (1998). Students will also study Sally Potter’s film version of Orlando (1992).

‘Fashion Feeds Art: The Body Clothed’

This block highlights how, in different decades of the 20th century and in different geographical contexts, visual artists have represented fashion and clothing in visual media, with a view to exploring the boundaries of gender construction. Individuals for discussion include Hannah Höch, Cindy Sherman and Louise Bourgeois (Franco-American).

Key Primary Bibliography / Filmography:

Please refer to individual blocks (above) for key primary texts.

Secondary Literature: General, Theoretical, Introductory:

Roland Barthes, The Fashion System (Berkeley 1990)

Stella Bruzzi, Fashion Cultures: theories, explanation and analysis (Routledge 2000)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity (Routledge 1990)

Dan Cavallero and Alexandra Warwick, Fashioning the Frame: boundaries, dress and the body (Berg 1998)

RW Connell, Gender (Polity 2002)

The above is a small selection of useful secondary materials. Some key readings will be made available via moodle. Separate, more expansive bibliographies will be provided for each block.



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