26029 - Critical Utopias

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Gilberta Golinelli

  • Credits 6

  • SSD L-LIN/10

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language English

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Modern, Post-Colonial and Comparative Literatures (cod. 0981)

  • Teaching resources on Virtuale

  • Course Timetable from Nov 13, 2023 to Dec 20, 2023


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality Reduced inequalities Sustainable cities

Academic Year 2023/2024

Learning outcomes

The student acquires historical and literary knowledge of women's popular culture with specific reference to travel literature and critical utopias, within a gender perspective.

Course contents

“My cloister shall not be a Cloister of restraint, but a place for freedom, not to vex the Senses but to please them” (Margaret Cavendish, A Convent of Pleasure)

Forms of utopianism and female communities in women’s utopian/dystopian literature

The course will explore the multi-layered meanings that utopia as a literary genre and utopianism as a form of thought acquire for women’s access to writing and to the ‘public’ and contemporary debates. Starting from the analysis of some emblematic texts written by male authors, for example Utopia (1516) by Thomas More and New Atlantis (1628) by Francis Bacon, the course will investigate the way in which this hybrid genre takes up a dialogue with classical utopianism and the great tradition as well as it interweaves with other contemporary emergent literary genres (travel writing, romance, novel, closet drama, theatre and scientific treatises). The course will then explore female forms of utopia from the 17th century until the 20th century to examine the ways in which female writers read the utopian paradigm and interpret it as a possible space for female agency and empowerment. But it will also interrogate how women used the utopian paradigm to discuss the obstacles and possibilities in women’s private and public life and to propose social and political changes.


The course will focus on examples taken from the following primary sources:

Margaret Cavendish, Bell in Campo, (1662), The Covent of Pleasure (1668), The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World (1666).

Mary Astell, A serious proposal to the Ladies, for the advancement of their true and greatest interest (1694-1697)

Sarah Scott, A Description of Millenium Hall (1762)

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1816-1831)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

Secondary Sources

NB: Bibliography and other information will be provided during the course (and then published on the online reading list and program). Students are requested to check the online program during the course for further notice and information.

N. Pohl, Women, Space and Utopia, 1600-1800, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006. (selected chapters).

G. Claeys, (ed. by), The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2010. (selected chapters)

K. Lilley, “Blazing World: Seventeenth-Century Women’s Utopian Writing”, in Women, Texts and Histories. 1575-1760, Clare Brant and Diane Purkiss (eds), London-New York, Routledge, 1992, pp. 102-133.

E. Lang Bonin, “Margaret Cavendish Dramatic Utopias and the Politics of Gender”, in SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. 40, n. 2, 2000, pp. 339-354.

Bernice L. Hausman, "Sex before Gender: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Evolutionary Paradigm of Utopia", Feminist Studies, Vol. 24, 1998, pp. 488-510.

Lee Cullen Khanna, "Utopian Exchanges: Negotiating Difference in Utopia", in Nicole Pohl and Brenda Tootley (eds), Gender and Utopia in the Eighteenth Century. Essays in English and French Utopian Writing, Ashgate, Fernham, 2004, pp. 17-37.

Teaching methods

The course includes both lessons and seminars with the active participation of the students. Students who cannot attend lessons must contact the lecturer during her office hours, or via e-mail before the end of the course. Students are requested to check the online program also during the course for further notice and information.

Assessment methods

Students are requested to analyse 2 primary texts (to be chosen amongst the texts in the Reading list of the primary sources), articles/essays/chapters from the Reading list of the Secondary sources.

A presentation or an essay to be accorded with the lecturer and a final oral exam


NB: Those students who are able to demonstrate a wide and systematic understanding of the issues covered during classes, are able to use these critically and who master the field-specific language of the discipline will be given a mark of excellence. Those students who demonstrate a mnemonic knowledge of the subject with a more superficial analytical ability and ability to synthesize, a correct command of the language but not always appropriate, will be given a satisfactory mark. A superficial knowledge and understanding of the material, a scarce analytical and expressive ability that is not always appropriate will be rewarded with a ‘pass' mark. Students who demonstrate gaps in their knowledge of the subject matter, inappropriate language use, lack of familiarity with the literature in the program bibliography will not be given a pass mark

Teaching tools

The Powerpoint files that will be used during the course will be available for students on the Insegnamenti Online website: https://iol.unibo.it/ .

Office hours

See the website of Gilberta Golinelli