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Women on Page

In 1985, the cartoonist Alison Bechdel devised a simple test for evaluating the representation of women in works of fiction. In order to pass the so-called "Bechdel Test," a novel or film must 1) feature at least two women or girls who 2) talk to each other 3) about something other than a boy or a man. Nearly thirty years later, the continued popularity of the Bechdel Test highlights ongoing problems with the representation of women in fictional media, but also points to a growing awareness of these issues, in Hollywood and elsewhere. In this course, we will study the representation of women in adaptations from literature to the screen, tracing a through-line of important female characters from the 1940s to the present day.  First, we will examine novels and short fiction that feature a female protagonist, in genres ranging from Daphne du Maurier's bestselling romance Rebecca (1938), to Ira Levin's satirical thriller The Stepford Wives (1972). We will then follow these female characters onto the big screen by studying their transformations from published texts to critically acclaimed filmed representations. We will ask: What generic and formal conventions in both literature and film contribute to a Bechdelian reading of gender representation? Which literary and filmic representations "fail" the Bechdel Test? By focusing on gender "in adaptation" in these ways, we will attempt to gain a better grasp of how written and filmed representations shape our understanding not only of the various roles of women in literature and film, but also of gender as a category for critical analysis.