Towards freedom: from Christina Rossetti to Sylvia Plath

Course Dates: 23/01/24 - 12/03/24
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Keeley Street
We look at how some women poets challenged the expectations of their families and the society in which they lived (reflected in the male-dominated publishing world of their time) to create highly original poetry which changed people’s views of what poetry could achieve.

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Full fee £149.00 Senior fee £149.00 Concession £97.00

Towards freedom: from Christina Rossetti to Sylvia Plath
  • Course Code: HLT26
  • Dates: 23/01/24 - 12/03/24
  • Time: 18:00 - 19:30
  • Taught: Tue, Evening
  • Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: Laurie Smith

Course Code: HLT26

Tue, eve, 23 Jan - 12 Mar '24

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This in-college literature course begins with Christina Rossetti who, despite a strongly traditional religious commitment, wrote some radical poems. We will focus on Goblin Market which raises complex issues of transgression and sexual desire including between women. With Emily Dickinson, we will explore the original features of her poems and her decision not to seek publication so that her poems became chiefly performances for herself alone.

With Edna St Vincent Millais we will consider how her political beliefs and desire for sexual freedom are reflected in her poetry. And we will explore Edith Sitwell’s remarkable early poetry, which led to the surrealist verse-and-music entertainment Façade (1922), as a resilient response to a very unhappy childhood.

What will we cover?

As the 20th century develops we will discuss how Marianne Moore responded to Sitwell’s influence to create poetry of a highly original kind and how her long-term friend and mentee, Elizabeth Bishop, created poems that appear low-key but are intensely memorable. We will consider how far they reflect the discretion that Bishop felt was necessary as a lesbian at that time.

Finally we will consider what makes the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton so original. In particular, we will discuss how far diagnoses of mental illness gave them permission to write in new ways.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Understand why some women poets have written in highly original ways.
• Appreciate how their originality reflects the family and other social pressures they experienced.
• Enjoy reading and discussing many fine poems.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

You should be interested in exploring how feelings are expressed, often in a new way, in the work of several major women poets through reading and discussing representative selections of their work. No particular knowledge or skills are needed.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The sessions are run in a seminar style with all students invited to read poems if they wish and take part in discussions led by the tutor. You will receive the materials several days beforehand so you can read them and be ready to discuss them.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No. All materials will be provided by the tutor.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

The tutor will also be teaching HLT302 Emily Dickinson, HLT29 An Introduction to Poetry and HLT45 An Introduction to Poetry: W H Auden and Elizabeth Bishop. Have a look at these and other poetry courses on our website at under History, Culture and Writing/Literature/Poetry.

Laurie Smith

Laurie Smith has taught poetry writing and literature courses at the City Lit for some years, focussing on modernism and writers' radicalism. He researches and lectures at King's College London, helped to found Magma poetry magazine which he sometimes edits and has been a Trustee of the Poetry Society.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.