Elizabeth Helsinger

John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor Emerita
Walker 418
Ph.D., Columbia University, 1973
Teaching at UChicago since 1972

Intellectual Biography

I have long been fascinated with the interplay between literature and other arts. My first book (1982) 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. A second book (1997) studied 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. I have also published on the nineteenth-century women's movement.

More recent research and writing has focused on poetry, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites and later nineteenth-century poets (Swinburne, Meynell, Michael Field, Hardy), One book (2008) examined the work of 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. A second book (2015) considered poetry's relations with song in the work of Rossetti, Morris, Christina Rossetti, and Swinburne (as well as Emily Brontë, Tennyson,and Gerard Manly Hopkins). My new book (2022) considers poems of conversation from the late eighteenth into the twentieth centuries (Coleridge, Clare, Landor, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Michael Field, Thomas Hardy), asking when and why poets turn to conversation, what conversation’s ethical and political stakes may be, and how conversation's forms and intentions shape the figures, rhythms, and prosody of poems to alter the reader's experience.  Recent and forthcoming articles study Rossetti's ecphrastic sonnets on music; Hopkins and visual culture; the short ecphrastic lyric in the long nineteenth century; the ballad revival and nineteenth-century poets including Tennyson and Swinburne; William Morris and the idea of (literary) ornament, Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites, and late nineteenth-century women poets (particularly Alice Meynell and Michael Field).

My teaching ranged more widely across genres and periods. I take for domain of inquiry the long nineteenth century, from c. 1770 to 1910. Romantic and Victorian poetry, fiction, and non-fiction prose and painting, illustrated books, other arts of design, and song are central topics, often starting in the late eighteenth century or reaching into the early twentieth. I have also taught 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.

Selected Publications

  • Conversing in Verse: Conversation in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry (Cambridge September 2022)
  • Poetry and the Thought of Song in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Virginia 2015)
  • Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris (Yale 2008)
  • Rural Scenes and National Representation: Britain, 1815-1850 (Princeton 1997)
  • Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder (Harvard 1982)
  • The “Writing” of Modern Life: The Etching Revival in France, Britain, and the U.S., 1850-1940, edited and with an introduction (University of Chicago Press 2009)
  • The Woman Question: Society and Literature in Britain and America, 1837-1883, 3 vols. Co-authored with Robin Lauterbach Sheets and William Veeder (Garland 1983, Chicago 1989)
  • “Contingent Lyrics: Christina Rossetti’s Verse and Poems,” Victorian Verse, ed. Lee Behlman and Olivia Moy (Palgrave Macmillan 2023)
  • “Picturing Music: Doubling Ecphrasis in Six Sonnets by Dante Gabriel Rossetti,” Journal of Victorian Culture, March 2022
  • “A Song, the Sea, and a Listening Boy: Whitman—Swinburne—Delius, Song Beyond the Nation, ed. Philip Bullock and Laura Tunbridge (Oxford 2021)
  • “Swinburne’s Expansive Poetics,” Defining Pre-Raphaelite Poetics, ed. Heather Bozant Witcher and Amy Kahrmann Huseby (Palgrave Macmillan 2020)
  • “A Question of Ornament: Poetry and the (Lesser) Art,” Routledge Companion to William Morris, ed. Florence Boos (Routledge 2020).
  • “Haunted by Voice,” Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Poetry, ed. Linda Hughes (Cambridge 2019)
  • “Teaching Morris in Chicago, c. 1900,” Teaching William Morris, ed. Jason Martinek and Elizabeth Carolyn Miller (Fairleigh Dickinson 2019).
  • “What Is This Thing Called Song?” Modern Language Quarterly, 2018
  • “Conversing in Verse,” English Literary History, 2017.
  • “Poem into Song,” New Literary History 46.4 (Autumn 2015)