Event Title

A Friendly Discourse: How Should A Person Be? At the Intersection of Female Friendship and Epistolarity

Presenter Information

Leah Cohen, Oberlin CollegeFollow

Location

King Building 237

Start Date

4-27-2018 3:00 PM

End Date

4-27-2018 4:20 PM

Abtract

Though English literary conventions of the 18th and 19th centuries often underrate the value of friendship between women and maximize the importance of heterosexual romance in the form of the marriage plot, the “female friendship plot” began to emerge in the 1970s and is experiencing a contemporary resurgence in novels of the last few years. I look at Sheila Heti’s autobiographical novel How Should A Person Be? (2012) as a particular form of female friendship novel which integrates an epistolary structure. Because epistolarity, traditionally associated with erotic heterosexual romance, has been deconstructed by critics and novelists of the 20th century, my analysis locates Sheila Heti’s novel in a literary moment when amorous discourse through letters is problematized and female friendship is ripe territory for fiction. Ultimately my analysis combines a critical discussion of female friendship in fiction with a theoretical history of epistolarity and asks: what kind of “friendly discourse” can exist at the intersection, and what does it ultimately mean for two female characters who are friends?

Keywords:

female friendship, writing, écriture feminine, epistolary friendships

Notes

Session V, Panel 16 - Gendered | Culture
Moderator: Shelley Lee, Associate Professor and Chair of Comparative American Studies, Associate Professor of History

Major

English; Creative Writing

Advisor(s)

Gillian Johns, English
Sylvia Watanabe, Creative Writing

Project Mentor(s)

Sandy Zagarell, English

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Apr 27th, 3:00 PM Apr 27th, 4:20 PM

A Friendly Discourse: How Should A Person Be? At the Intersection of Female Friendship and Epistolarity

King Building 237

Though English literary conventions of the 18th and 19th centuries often underrate the value of friendship between women and maximize the importance of heterosexual romance in the form of the marriage plot, the “female friendship plot” began to emerge in the 1970s and is experiencing a contemporary resurgence in novels of the last few years. I look at Sheila Heti’s autobiographical novel How Should A Person Be? (2012) as a particular form of female friendship novel which integrates an epistolary structure. Because epistolarity, traditionally associated with erotic heterosexual romance, has been deconstructed by critics and novelists of the 20th century, my analysis locates Sheila Heti’s novel in a literary moment when amorous discourse through letters is problematized and female friendship is ripe territory for fiction. Ultimately my analysis combines a critical discussion of female friendship in fiction with a theoretical history of epistolarity and asks: what kind of “friendly discourse” can exist at the intersection, and what does it ultimately mean for two female characters who are friends?