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Literature and Gender

Illness, Disability, and Gender in Modernist Literature

Image credit: Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu (1919)

Just as COVID-19 and the global tumult following in its wake have provoked us to rethink the world and our place in it, so too did the twin cataclysms of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic compel modernist writers to find new ways to understand and represent the traumatic events they witnessed. In this class, we will take up Elizabeth Outka’s demand in Viral Modernism (2019) to “read for illness”—both physical and mental—to contextualize and critique how modernist authors depicted the intertwined subjects of illness, disability, and gender within their writings. This examination will also expand students’ awareness of how historical circumstances beyond warfare influenced the modernist imagination.

To this end, we will read a selection of short stories, novels, diary entries, letters, poems, and essays by authors such as Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Langston Hughes, and Nella Larsen. We will also consider contemporary and scholarly responses to these works of literature with the overarching goal of engaging with tensions and trends in modernist scholarship about illness, disability, and gender.


Assessments will consist of:

*Forms of evaluation are subject to change but will be designed to enable students to hone their writing and research skills*

  • Final essay, to be workshopped throughout the semester, 

  • Brief written responses to readings and key questions.


Level 2 or above

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.