Helen Solterer
Professor of Romance Studies

I’m a critic of fiction –and creative non-fiction – in French in all its forms.
Liberty at its purest, as Alain Chartier, Annie Saumont, Sade test it.
An engaging discipline as Beckett, Rutebeuf, Voltaire, and Zeina Abirached practice it.

Imprinted by my first training in early, modern literature and history in French, I investigate fiction in historical action: its aesthetic gambles, its political impact, its cultural implications.  I can’t debate the functions of fiction without first considering its early forms and experiments in relation to many others, including those today in various Francophone communities. 

Timely Fictions, the book I’m completing now, is the fruit of this line of thinking.  It proposes a model of fiction that encompasses and accounts for its irregular creative interventions in time.  Composed as an almanac, it offers a series of pictorial essays that examines visionary political writing, drama, poetry, and graphic narrative.  With each essay a major form of fiction is redefined by traversing its multiple temporalities and different practices; for example, the utopia of Christine de Pizan with Edith Thomas, the mystery play and farce with Sartre, Simone Jollivet, and Simone de Beauvoir; Villon, with Victor Hugo, Édouard Glissant and Langston Hughes.  This research has been supported by the Francophone Digital Humanities project, funded by a grant from French Cultural Services. 

 My last book, Medieval Roles for Modern Times, pursues a similar type of criticism by investigating early theater through its twentieth-century performances by a troupe in Paris.  It shows this role-playing  as a surprising matrix of civic action, from Right to Left,  leading through the trenches of World War One, the happenings of the Popular Front, all the way to the life-affirming work with ‘hidden’ Jewish children under Vichy and Nazi Occupation.  Un Moyen Âge républicain : paradoxes du théâtre en temps de guerre, its adaptation, was featured at the History Book Festival in Blois, France.

 InTransit: Arts of Migration around Europe is a research group I co-convened with faculty from Romance Studies, Art, Art History and Visual Studies, and the Nasher Museum [2016-18].  Through a series of four installations across campus, the group presented a historical perspective on migration today in several major areas of the world where Romance languages are spoken – Europe, Africa, the Middle East.  Students’ work on various francophone pieces were part of the exhibit at the Museum

Seminars offered to students at all levels include:

  • Biography, Autobiography, Life-Writing
  • The French Difference
  • History of Free Speech: Francophonie-USA
  • Early, Modern Times – A User’s Manual
  • Cultural Memory
  • French Short Fiction

Collaboration defines all my teaching: multi-lingual critics, writers, activists, and artists of all stripes contribute to these classes. Students interested in researching all forms of fiction in historical depth are particularly welcome.  

Off campus, I’m also at work on a book of another style: a family biography  / literary essay moving between Dublin-Paris.





Office Hours

Wednesdays, 5-6 pm.
& by appt.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

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