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Rape & Sexual Assault

From SSAWW-L. Compiled by Debra J. Rosenthal.

  • Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces,  and Eudora Welty’s shirt story cycle Golden Apples.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • *Speak* by Laurie Anderson. The primary subject of the novel is the silence of a teen-age girl after she has been raped.
  • S: A Novel About the Balkans about the rape camps in that war — tells the story of a young schoolteacher and what she endured — she is a composite, clearly. Novel is by Slavenka Drakulic, Croatian journalist and novelist — it is wrenching and takes the reader through the consequences of rape when the victim becomes pregnant.
  • Depending on what angle your student wants to take, there’s Alexander Chee’s EDINBURGH, Monique Truong’s BITTER IN THE MOUTH, Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE, Dorothy Allison’s BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, Chang-rae Lee’s A GESTURE LIFE, Nora Okja Keller’s COMFORT WOMAN (these last two detail the rape of Korean comfort women during WWII) — your student may want to consider whether she wants to consider younger protagonists who experience rape, whether that rape is done by a family member, and then whether rape occurs as part of wartime experiences, and of course in the case of Toni Morrison’s BELOVED, whether it’s part of the white supremacist ideology of the antebellum period.
  • Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, is probably a bit much for an independent study with a (seemingly) different historical focus, but I’d nevertheless recommend Frances Ferguson’s “Rape and the Rise of the Novel” (Representations, 1987). It’s difficult for an undergrad, but an important account of the centrality of such accounts to the novel form.
  • Slavenka Drakulic’s    S: A novel about the Balkans and Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys
  • Ernest Gaines’ IN MY FATHER’s House
  • Gaul Jones’ CORREGIDORA — many votes
  • Charles Brockden Brown’s WIELAND
  • Lydia Maria Child’s A ROMANCE OF THE REPUBLIC (similar to “The Quadroons” and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes”)
  • Edwidge Danticat’s BREATH, EYES, MEMORY
  • OCtavia Butler’s KINDRED
  • Patricia Hill Collins’ BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT is good too.
  • *Boys Don’t Cry (the film)
  • *Sharon Marcus’s “Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention” (secondary source)
  • *Your school’s sexual assault / rape policy (it’s productive to read these, I think, for the implicit narratives they suggest about rape)
  •  Incidents, — Jacobs returns to the theme of rape in her final pages through the figure of a male victim, Luke.
  • In “Where are you going where have you been” there is a really good song entitled “The Salesman, Denver Max” by the Blood Brothers that uses Oates’ story as inspiration. Also, with Harriet Jacobs, I would think of using works by Lydia Maria Child and even Butler’s Kindred.
  • When I teach Rape Culture in Literature and Media, I include many Classical myths, Alice Sebold’s LUCKY, Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” Marge Piercy’s “Rape Poem,” Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies” (for a critique of rape narratives), and several pieces of secondary criticism and feminist theory.
  • Cris Mazza’s Your Name Here: ________ (Coffee House 1995) would be smart and appropriate.  It’s an epistolary novel a la Clarissa.  The protagonist re-reads an old diary, which enables her to recollect and work through a rape that has been hard for her to remember because of the severity of her injuries.  Mazza’s work may not have the recognition of the texts you mention, but she’s the author of several novels and short story collections.  She is or was long affiliated with Fiction Collective 2, which I suppose makes her the kind of experimental writer that Jonathan Franzen belittled a few years ago in his essay “FC2.”  Mazza’s collection Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? includes an especially compelling response to the treatment of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.  All to say that she’s authored a substantial literature that dwells on the concerns that interest your student.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer — The Wife of Bath’s Tale!
  • Stephen King — “Big Driver” (short story from Full Dark, No Stars)
  • The Rape Poems by Frances Driscoll
  • The Bluest Eye, Corregidora, Thirty Girls, Hottentot Venus, Stone Butch Blues, Comfort Woman, Blu’s Hanging, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and I think we could go on forever, unfortunately.
  • Women in the Trees: U.S. Women’s Short Stories About Battering and Resistance, 1839-2000 (American Women’s Stories Project) Paperback
  • by Susan Koppelman (Editor), alix Kates Shulman (Foreword)
  • The student could check out my article “Deconstructing the ‘Pedagogy of Abuse': Teaching Child Sexual Abuse Narratives” in our collection Sapphire’s Literary Breakthrough: Erotic Literacies, Feminist Pedagogies, Environmental Justice Perspectives. Other significant rape texts are mentioned throughout the volume, too
  • Some other secondary sources are a decade or two old but might be useful:
  • ·         Intimate Violence: Reading Rape and Torture in Twentieth-Century Fiction by Laura E. Tanner (Indiana, 1994)
  • ·         Race, Rape and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890-1912 by Sandra Gunning (Oxford 1996)
  • ·         Reading Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in American Culture, 1790-1990 by Sabine Seilke (Princeton 2002)
  • ·         The Economics of Fantasy: Rape in Twentieth-Century Literature  by Sharon Stockton (Ohio State 2006)
  • In addition to the novels you mention, some others that come up in these works include Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Fountainhead, A Clockwork Orange, etc.
  • The collection HIGGINS, L. A., AND BRENDA R. SILVER (ed.) 1991. Rape and Representation, New York: Columbia University Press. is old but still very good. The introduction, and several of the chapters refer to the processes of ‘obsessive inscription and erasure’ that surround rape in western literature, a concept your student might be interested in. There’s also some good chapters, for instance on Tess of the D’Ubervilles that discuss ways in which rape is not represented directly that might be interesting.
  • Finding full-blown rape in poetry before the 20th century may prove daunting (off-hand I am not familiar with any examples)but near rape or rape reconfigures as the ruthless destruction of a flower. Three readily accessible instances would be: Zophiel by Maria Gowen Brooks, Canto 1, The Sinless Child by Elizabeth Oakes Smith, Part VI, and “Bloodroot” by Emily Forman. What makes Smith particularly interesting is the way she uses near rape to lead ultimately to the male villain’s redemption.
  • Dickinson?
  • Louise Erdrich’s WONDERFUL new novel, _The Round House_. Brings up all sorts of issues around tribal laws and retribution. And the messiness of narrating stories of rape.
  • The collection HIGGINS, L. A., AND BRENDA R. SILVER (ed.) 1991. Rape and Representation, New York: Columbia University Press. is old but still very good. The introduction, and several of the chapters refer to the processes of ‘obsessive inscription and erasure’ that surround rape in western literature, a concept your student might be interested in. There’s also some good chapters, for instance on Tess of the D’Ubervilles that discuss ways in which rape is not represented directly that might be interesting.
  •  Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood Dianthe is raped physically and mentally (through supernatural mesmeric “control,” as I read it); has anyone mentioned the underlying threat of rape in Our Nig–Frado and her “beloved” James? Also Cisneros’s House on Mango Street…
  • Warshaw’s I Never Called it Rape is a classic, and includes brief first-person accounts.  Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear also includes some accounts (I can’t recall if they are first person or not), and provides a different angle on what predators actually look like, as opposed to the typical narrative.  And there’s a huge, ongoing “conversation” online about rape culture, with many first-person narratives, including Dylan Farrow’s recent New York Times piece (and the many responses).
  • The biblical stories of the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by her brother and of the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dina
  • This isn’t a literary work, but your student may find the current conversation around a feature-film depiction of rape interesting. This post in particular has been shared extensively: https://medium.com/editors-picks/1d20ea8b9064
  • On the issues of silencing and discourses representing rape, your student might find interesting E. D. E. N. Southworth’s The Deserted Wife (1850).  The Saturday Evening Post, which brought out the novel in serial (1849), refused to publish the scene in which the Reverend John Huss Withers forces his parishioner Sophie Churchill to marry him.   When Southworth brought out the book version she restored the scene in which she depicts a young woman’s struggle against physical, psychological, and social force and suggests some intersections of rape and marriage.
  • Rape occupies a central place in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight.
  • Doesn’t rape also figure in Sylvia Platt’s Bell Jar? Although not written by a women, Paul Bowles’s Sheltering Sky addresses rape. I highly recommend this novel. Also the novel Purge, similar to S: A Novel, set in 1990s Estonia.
  • If she’s interested in US writers focusing on transnational subjects, and wants to include plays, she might look at Lynn Nottage’s _Ruined_ (Congo) and Eve Ensler’s _Necessary Targets_ (Bosnia).
  • Chester Himes’ A Case for Rape (1980) in a used bookstore. It appears to be part novel part social critique. Interesting, possibly, if looking at African American literature.
  • Looking at earlier American lit, what about The Power of Sympathy, The Coquette, and Charlotte Temple?
  • Two perhaps more problematic texts: Kathy Acker Love and Guts in high School which, she claims in interview depicts early on an apparent rape of Janey which is one where this female ‘wanted’ it …and Diane Di Prima, Memoirs of a Beatnik in which the protagonist initially fights against but then surrenders and finally enjoys the sex


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