English and Film Studies

ENGL 301 B1: Social and Cultural History of Genre

C. Bracken

The “genre” in this case will be gothic.  The focus, though, will be stories of witchcraft.  There is an astonishing number of novels, stories, film, shows (etc) about witches available today.  We will limit ourselves to a selection of canonical texts.  We will look particularly at witchcraft accusations.  According to the anthropologists, witchcraft is practiced in secret.  It has no positive, concrete existence, but exists only in rumors, stories, and malicious gossip.  A witchcraft accusation is a case where narrative supplants real life.  The anthropologists say the primary cause of witchcraft allegation is envy.  We accuse others of witchcraft when we feel like failures ourselves.  But envy arises in a precise social and historical context.  Witches are conjured up in times of social and economic insecurity and amid struggles for political power.  Witchcraft, moreover, is closely tied to intimacy.  A witch is usually a member of the accuser’s family.  According to an old proverb, one must learn to live with one’s witch.

 

TEXTS:

 

Adam Ashforth, The Trials of Mrs. K.

Charles Chestnutt, Conjure Woman

Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men

Fritz Leiber, Conjure Wife

(There are three film adaptations; we’ll watch one, Burn Witch Burn (1962), dir. Sidney Hayers, American International Pictures)

Arthur Miller, The Crucible

N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn

Helen Oyeyemi, White is for Witching

John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick