A Problem Like Maria

This course examines why nannies are trusted with our dearest possession, our children, yet are viewed with ambivalence and why there has been such little curiosity, in terms of biography, social history, and psychology, about the contribution these “second mothers” have had on the children they cared for. The course traces the historical evolution of the governess and her status as a threshold figure, suspended between the middle and working class. Likewise, the nanny enjoys a remarkable intimacy with the family, yet ultimately stands apart from it. Students consider the narrative tropes and pop culture stereotypes the nanny has accumulated over time: the magical nanny who restores order to the family; the nanny as the truer mother; the rival nanny who will steal your husband and your children’s love; and the evil nanny who may hurt the children she is charged with protecting, as well as looking at the struggles and marginalization of the immigrant working class nanny. Overall, the course employs governesses and nannies to explore issues of class, gender, feminism, ethnicity and race, globalization, outsider-within status, and ways of mothering. Course materials include fiction, film, memoir, theory, social science, and psychology texts.

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