Elizabeth Helsinger

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


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 later 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). Recent and forthcoming articles study Rossetti's visual and verbal work on Dante; gardens in painting; 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). I'm also working on a longer project about the history of conversing in verse. 

My teaching ranges 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 relationsboth more generally and with specific reference to particular topics.


2017-18 courses: Winter 2018, Poetry and the Other Arts: Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism (graduate)

Graduate: Ballad and Song; Lyric Forms from Blake to Hardy; Text and Image in Victorian Britain; Poetry and the Arts - Britain, 1850-1880; Victorian Women Writers; The Pre-Raphaelites; 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.