Elizabeth Helsinger

Elizabeth Helsinger

John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor Emerita
Department of English
Department of Art History
Department of Visual Arts


I have long been fascinated with the interplay between literature and the visual and material arts. My early work focused on art and social criticism of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Ruskin, Hazlitt, Baudelaire, Pater): on the aesthetic or social assumptions that writers on the arts helped to formulate and the art that shaped their and their readers' sensibilities. Reading became a central term, as I studied how these critics borrow from and in turn shape techniques of looking and of more literary reading and interpretation. I've also worked extensively on landscape as an especially interesting aspect of the shared literary and visual culture of the first half of the nineteenth century—and as the site of competing, often highly politicized constructions of Englishness.

Later research and writing focused on the Pre-Raphaelite poet-artists, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as a way of reconsidering questions of history, poetics, and the material cultures of later nineteenth-century Britain. Current projects include work on lyric poetry and its continuing relations with song; on Victorian aesthetics; Swinburne's poetics and politics; gothic, fantasy, and uncanny fictions of art, visuality, and history; the etching revival; painting and elegy; and the figure of song in later nineteenth-century poetry and painting. My teaching, however, ranges more widely across genres and periods. I take for domain of inquiry the long nineteenth century, from c. 1770 to 1910. Victorian poetry, fiction, and non-fiction prose and Victorian painting, illustrated books, and other arts of design are central topics, but often starting in the late eighteenth century or reaching into the early twentieth. I also teach courses on the social history and literary production of 19th century women; on the relations between historiography and historical (and realist) fiction; on the problems of national representation in the early and mid-Victorian years; on image-text relations both more generally and with specific reference to particular topics: the Pre-Raphaelites; landscape; or the mutually implicated developments of museums and exhibitions and of book authorship, design, and publication.


Graduate: Text and Image in Victorian Britain; Poetry and the Arts - Britain, 1850-1880; Victorian Women Writers; The Pre-Raphaelites; Lyric Forms from Blake to Hardy; History & Fiction in 19th Century Britain; The "Writing" of Modern Life: Modernity, Literature and the Etching Revival.

Undergraduate: Victorian Women Writers; The Pre-Raphaelites; Victorian London in Literature and Art.

Selected Publications

 by Elizabeth Helsinger  by Elizabeth Helsinger
  • The Writing of Modern Life: the Etching Revival in France, Britain, and the U.S., 1850-1940 (ed.), University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Yale University Press, 2008.
  • Rural Scenes and National Representation, Britain 1815-1850, Princeton University Press, 1997.
  • The Woman Question: Society and Literature in Britain and America, 1837-1883 (co-authored with Robin Sheets and William Veeder), 3 vols., Garland, 1983, and University of Chicago Press, 1989.
  • Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder, Harvard University Press, 1982.
  • "Song's Fictions: Swinburne and the Embedded Song Poem," Yearbook of English Studies special issue on the Arts in Victorian Literature, ed. Catherine Maxwell and Stefano Evangelista, forthcoming 2010.
  • "Victorian Aesthetics," in the new Cambridge History of English Literature: The Victorian Period, ed. Kate Flint (forthcoming 2010).
  • "Grieving Images: Elegy and the Visual Arts," in The Oxford Companion to the Elegy, ed. Karen Weissman (forthcoming 2010).
  • "Listening: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Persistence of Song," Victorian Studies, autumn 2009.
  • "Blindness and Insights," Landscape Theory, ed. James Elkins and Rachel DeLue (vol. 6 of The Art Seminar), Routledge, 2008.
  • "Ruskin and the Aesthetics of Color," Nineteenth-Century Prose, Special Issue on Ruskin, 2007.
  • "Years Work in Nineteenth-Century British Literature," SEL 46, November, 2006.
  • "Lyric Color: Pre-Raphaelite Art and Morris's Defense of Guenevere," The Journal of the William Morris Society, vol. No. 4 (Summer 2004).
  • "Morris Before Kelmscott: Poetry and Design in the 1860s," The Victorian Illustrated Book, ed. Richard Maxwell, University of Virginia Press, 2002.
  • "Authority, Desire, and the Pleasures of Reading," in an edition of Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies, ed. Deborah Nord, Rethinking the Western Tradition series, Yale University Press, 2000.
  • "Pre-Raphaelite Intimacies: Ruskin and Rossetti," in Ruskin's Artists: Studies in the Victorian Visual Economy, ed. Robert Hewison, Ashgate Press, 2000.
  • "Rossetti and the Art of the Book," in Text, Image, and Culture 1770-1930, ed. Catherine Golden, Oak Knoll Press, 2000.
  • "Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Aesthetic and Social Experiment in the 1860s," Ideas vol. 2, no. 2 (1998).
  • "Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire: Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market,'" English Literary History 58 (1991); repr. Victorian Women Poets, ed. Joseph Bristow, Macmillan, 1996.


Ph.D., Columbia University, 1973. Teaching at Chicago since 1972.