Elizabeth Helsinger

John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service, English, Art History, 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.

My recent research and writing has 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 Victorian aesthetics; Swinburne's poetics and politics; and gothic, fantasy, and uncanny fictions of art, visuality, and history. 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.

Selected Publications

“Grieving Images: Elegy and the Visual Arts,” in Oxford Guide to the Elegy, ed. Karen Weissman, 2010. 

“Afterword: 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.

The“Writing of Modern Life: The Etching Revival in France, Britain, and the United States, 1850-1940, (edited and contributed title essay, University of Chicago Press for The Smart Museum, November, 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).

"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, eds. Richard Maxwell, (University of Virginia Press, 2002).

"Pre-Raphaelite Intimacies: Ruskin and Rossetti," in Ruskin's Artists: Studies in the Victorian Visual Economy, eds. Robert Hewison, (Ashgate Press, 2000).

"Rossetti and the Art of the Book," in Book Illustrated: Text, Image, and Culture 1770-1930, eds. Catherine Golden, (Oak Knoll Press, 2000).

"Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Aesthetic and Social Experiment in the 1860s," Ideas Vol. 2, No. 2 (1998).