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Suggestions for Comparing The Life of an Amorous Woman, Moll Flanders, and Memoirs of a Geisha

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One of the greatest challenges faced by teachers is identifying common ground on which we can meet to consider the different cultural expectations that separate us and the common human values that unite us. This essay suggests we can find such common ground by comparing content and literary techniques shared in three much admired novels: The Life of an Amorous Woman (Koshoku Ichidai Onna) by Japanese poet and novelist Ihara Saikaku (1623–93); Moll Flanders by English essayist and novelist Daniel Defoe (1660–1731); and Memoirs of a Geisha by contemporary American novelist Arthur Golden. In these novels the “temptress” or “fallen woman” heroine is less reviled for her sexual wantonness than admired for her ability to survive. Ideally, all students will read these three books in their entirety. Students who have read the complete texts will, of course, have a much greater opportunity to study style closely and address related thematic issues. However, the subject matter of these texts may create problems, especially in class discussion. To avoid battles with censors and bowdlerizers, I suggest that the teacher use excerpts, such as those identified by page numbers on a chart included in my brief lesson plan available at http://www.smith.edu/fcceas/traubwom.htm.

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