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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman, Director 2505 University Avenue, A4900, Burdine Hall 536, Austin Texas 78712 • 512-471-5765

Elizabeth Cullingford

Core Faculty Ph.D., Oxford University

Department Chair of English, Professor
Elizabeth Cullingford



Elizabeth Butler Cullingford is Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor in English Literature and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.  She is currently serving as the Chair of the English Department. Her publications include Ireland’s Others: Ethnicity and Gender in Irish Literature and Popular Culture, 2001; Gender and History in Yeats's Love Poetry,1993 and Yeats, Ireland and Fascism,1981. Professor Cullingford earned her doctorate at Oxford and has taught at The University of Texas at Austin since 1980. She has won numerous teaching awards, including the Teaching with Technology Gold Award for her multimedia "Masterworks of British Literature" survey course. 1985 to 1990 she served as director of the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, Ireland. Recent articles include: 'Evil, Sin, or Doubt: The Dramas of Clerical Child Abuse,' 'Our Nuns Are Not a Nation: Politicizing the Convent in Irish Literature and Film,' The Prisoner's Wife and the Soldier's Whore: Female Punishment in Irish Popular Culture' and 'Mothers and Virgins: Sinead O'Connor, Neil Jordan, and the Butcher Boy.'  She is currently working on a feminist cultural studies project analyzing literary depictions of the only child in the contexts provided by folklore, history, religion, demography, and sociology.

WGS 393 • Only Child: Lit/Cul/Ecology

47310 • Fall 2012
Meets TTH 930am-1100am PAR 210
(also listed as E 392M )
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Elizabeth Cullingford: The Only Child in a Crowded World: Literature, Culture, and Ecology

Environmentalists have long argued for reproductive restraint in order to slow the erosion of what is left of the "natural" world. Accepting human responsibility for climate change, and relating fossil fuels to fecundity, this course will explore and challenge the negative literary and cultural stereotypes attached to only children.

The accumulated weight of centuries of cultural disapproval bears heavily against the single-child family. In 1928 the psychologist G. Stanley Hall famously declared: “Being an only child is a disease in itself." This judgment still exerts a powerful grip on the collective psyche of the developed world. Until the late twentieth century, having an only child was widely perceived as a misfortune. Being an only child was no better. Although social science research suggests that most of the negative stereotypes concerning only children and their parents are wide of the mark, it is a truth universally acknowledged that as well as being spoiled, selfish and arrogant, the only child will be lonely and maladjusted in childhood, overburdened in middle age by the sole responsibility for elderly parents, and lonely again as the end of life approaches.

Yet the single child family is currently the fastest-growing demographic group in the developed world. The main impetus behind this change is the entry of women into the workforce. Commentators on the status of women, work and family emphasize the struggle entailed in balancing jobs and children; but demographers tell us that the majority of women still intend to have two offspring. Working women, however, marry later and delay pregnancy, while other factors such as divorce may intervene to frustrate their plans. The only child, whether planned or accidental, may represent a satisfactory compromise between the desire for motherhood, the desire or need for paid employment, and the health of the planet.

The first part of the course will consider only children in the Bible, the classics, and Shakespeare, the indispensible cultural referents of later literature. We will go on to analyze changing representations of only children in England during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will also examine poems, contemporary novels, films, and excerpts from popular parenting manuals, the “conduct books” of our time. We will be concerned with the history of women in the family, the perpetuation or revision of cultural stereotypes, and the considerable aesthetic advantages of the single child: pathos, economy, and intensity. Because of the artistic power of what is unique, there may have been more only children in literature than there were in life. Throughout the course we will balance the insights of environmentalism, demography and sociology against the imperatives of aesthetic form. 


Texts (slight changes may be possible)

The Bible (Abraham and Isaac; Jepthah's Daughter; selections from the Gospels)

Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Ovid: Procne and Philomel,

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex

 Euripides: The Bacchae

 Shakespeare: Hamlet, Coriolanus, The Tempest

Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights

Anne Bronte: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Henry James: “The Author of Beltraffio,” Washington Square, What Maisie Knew

Edith Wharton: The Custom of the Country

William Trevor: The Story of Lucy Gault

Emma Donoghue: Room

Todd Field, dir. In the Bedroom


Course packet: essays by feminists, environmentalists, social historians, demographers, and parenting “experts.”

Requirements: Weekly reading journals, one seminar presentation, one 20 page paper.


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