Blast Course: "Bad Mothers—in Literature, On Screen, and Across History"


Dates: Mondays/Thursdays from July 13th through August 14th (5 weeks)

Class Type: 2 recorded videos per week (with one live group meeting TBD)

Course Description: What makes a bad mother? Why do so many works of fiction—from classic works of literature to present-day TV and film—center around bad mothers? And how do important factors, especially those rooted in race and class, feature in the decision about who is a “bad” mother? This course takes up these questions in order to consider what counts as mothering. We will ask how it came to be understood as natural, perhaps as the cornerstone of womanhood itself, but also how characters across fiction and outside it have shown the problems with this supposedly instinctive ideal. Across this 5-week Blast Course, we will focus on five topics: 1) “Introducing the ‘Bad Mother,’” across fiction and history; 2) the ideal of the “Angel in the House”; 3) the horror of the “Monster/Mother”; 4) the question of whether “A Mother’s Work” is ever done; and 5) looking at the present and future of “Mothers, Assisted.” Some works considered will include Medea, a variety of fairy tales, Leave It to Beaver, The Babadook, Pride & PrejudiceSchitt’s Creek, and Parasite. Insights from thinkers including bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Dorothy K. Roberts, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde will help us as we re-consider the bad mothers all around us.

Open to the public

[image credit: "Great Gatsbys" by Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) (c) 2010]

ABOUT Sarah Ross
PhD Candidate, English

Sarah Ross works on nineteenth-century British literature, with a specialization in Victorian novels as they relate to gender and sexuality, material culture, labor, and empire. She has taught classes on nineteenth-century literature and contemporary theories of motherhood with a focus on race and class; a cultural studies course on sewing as art and craft labor; an introduction to literary studies research methods; and courses in the Expository Writing Program on witches and witch-hunts and on the Gothic. Her dissertation, Burning Papers: Destruction and Textual Identity in the Victorian Novel, examines scenes of deliberate destructive burning of papers across Victorian fiction and how this turn to fire underscores the way subjects wrote and read themselves on paper in the nineteenth century.

Ross received an M.A. from Durham University (UK) in 2013.

She has served as the Managing Editor for ELH since July 2016.

 Event Date
Monday, July 13, 2020
11:00am EDT

Friday, August 14, 2020

Alexander Grass Humanities Institute

Status message

This class is now closed. Please email with your name and the title of this class if you would like to be added to the waitlist. In the meantime, please check out our other Blast Course offerings.