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Helen Solterer, Professor

Helen Solterer

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.





Contact Info:
Office Location:  217B Language Center, Durham, NC 27708
Email Address: send me a message
Web Pages:

Teaching (Fall 2019):

    Perkins 070, TuTh 10:05 AM-11:20 AM
    Languages 305, TuTh 01:25 PM-02:40 PM
    (also cross-listed as FRENCH 411.01, HISTORY 611.01, HISTORY 420.01, LIT 609.01, LIT 420.01)
Office Hours:

Wednesdays, 5-6 pm.
& by appt.

Ph.D.University of Toronto (Canada)1986
Boursière, Ambassade de France,Université de Paris VII1983
Masters of ArtUniversity of Toronto1981
Bachelor of ArtsGeorgetown University1978
Year of StudyUniversity College of Dublin1978

Early Modern
European Studies
Performance Studies
Gender Studies, Feminism, Women Studies, Queer Studies
Research Interests:

Pre-modern French Literature and Culture; Twentieth-Century European Cultural History; Performance Studies; Gender Studies. Research Interests include questions of cultural memory, biography, political writing -- Christine de Pizan, Alain Chartier, François Villon; and contemporary theater.

Curriculum Vitae
Current Ph.D. Students  

  • Julie Singer  
  • Brooke Heidenreich Findley  
  • Daniel De Cillis  
Representative Publications   (More Publications)

  1. Solterer, H, Un Moyen Âge républicain : paradoxes du théâtre en temps de guerre (2014), Presses universitaires Paris-Sorbonne, (translated by Chénetier Alev, M.) [un-moyen-age-republicain]
  2. Solterer, H, Medieval Roles in Modern Times: Theater and the Battle for the French Republic (February, 2010), pp. 271 pages, 40 figures pages, The Pennsylvania State University Press
  3. Solterer, H, "Aimer un pays tout autre: Christine de Pizan, Alain Chartier, & Compagnie”, in Sens, Rhétorique, et Musique : Études réunies en hommage à Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet, edited by Lefèvre, S; Lucken, C; Doudet, E (2015), pp. 769-782, Champion
  4. Solterer, H, Parcours d’un militant de théâtre: Moussa Abadi, in Le texte critique : expérimenter le théâtre et le cinéma aux XXe et XXIe siècles, edited by Alev, VVEMC (2013), pp. 207-220., Presses Universitaires François Rabelais
  5. Solterer, H; Dominguez, V, Réactivations scéniques, in Le Théâtre du XIIe au XIIe siècles, edited by Halévy, O; Parussa, G; Smith, D (2014), L’Avant-Scène
  6. Solterer, H, “Strange or Elegant or Foul Matter,”, Exemplaria, 25 (2013) (2013), pp. 79-92 (A Book-review essay.) [1041257312Z.00000000026]
  7. Solterer, H, Timely Fictions (2017)
  8. H. Solterer, "Love to Hate: A Premodern Legacy?" (2013)
  9. Solterer, H, Teaching Free Speech in Times of War, edited by I com, Insiderhighered.Com (September, 2007)
  10. Solterer, H, The Master and Minerva: Disputing Women in French Medieval Culture (September, 1995), University of California Press (co-awarded The Modern Language Association Scaglione Prize, 1995.)
Conferences Organized

  • "Théâtre et Résistance: Moussa Abadi”, June 2009  

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