Today’s Tuesday with Tulsa guest blog post was written by Dr. Laura Stevens, Associate Professor of English at TU.
I have taught at the University of Tulsa for fifteen years, and during that decade-and-a-half my teaching has almost never moved past the year 1800. Next semester, though, I have decided to take the plunge into more contemporary material, with a Block I class titled “Beyond Bella: Twenty-First-Century Girls’ Adventure.”
In this class the students and I will consider what has basically been an explosion of popular texts – novels, TV shows, films, and comic books – that tell what are at their core adventure stories with female protagonists. Often these adventure stories are intertwined with more traditional female narratives of love and courtship, such as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series, but they also feature girls or young women in situations and plots that call for action, initiative, athleticism, even aggression. In this way these texts break from the more traditional kinds of narratives that have tended for centuries (and longer) to feature young women. I am interested in exploring whether, and how, these adventure stories might have a liberating or empowering effect on their female audiences, opening up new horizons of the imagination in which young women can imagine their lives unfolding. Or is it the case that these texts have more complex effects on their female audiences, perhaps by creating ridiculously high notions of what real women should be? I also want to ask how these texts depict boys and men, and thus how they encourage young men and women to think about each other. Finally, the students and I will consider how these newer texts are connected to precursors such as the Nancy Drew mysteries or Anne of Green Gables.
I am a longtime Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and I recently became an enthusiastic reader of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. To all of these texts I bring an awareness steeped in eighteenth-century English and American novels, which tend to feature women in domestic courtship narratives or in gothic stories of eeriness, mystery, and occasional terror. Some of the other texts we will be studying are entirely new to me, such as Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books or The Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. My students probably will have much to teach me about some of these novels, and I look forward to learning some of this material along with them. We’ll also be reading one novel, The False Princess, by an author whose office is just down the hall from the room where I’ll be teaching. This is Eilis Oneal, an alumna of the TU English Department who is the managing editor of the literary journal Nimrod. She does not know it yet, but I hope to lure her in to speak to the students.