Helen Solterer

Helen Solterer

Professor of Romance Studies

External address: 217B Language Center, Durham, NC 27708
Phone: (919) 660-3118
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 5-6 pm.
& by appt.
My research focuses on pre-modern literatures and cultures.  I study these French vernacular fictions in historical action, shaped not only by events of their first era, but by many others, including the critic’s contemporary one.  Medieval Roles for Modern Timesmy last book, tests this model by investigating early theater in its twentieth-century matrix.  Through the case of a troupe of actors, it explores its political, religious, and aesthetic use by the generations of two World Wars.  Un Moyen Âge républicain : paradoxes du théâtre en temps de guerre , an adaptation published by Presses universitaires Paris-Sorbonne, 2014, was featured at the History Book Festival in Blois.

Timely Fictions, the book I’m writing now, deepens this line of thinking in a series of pictorial essays on poetry, drama, narrative and material culture.  Each essay cuts “across the grain of time” considering, for example, Villon, with Hugo and Glissant, Christine de Pizan with Edith Thomas, the mystery play with Sartre and Tansi, Bayeux tapestry with Inuit ivory graphics.  This work has been supported by the  ‘Francophone Digital Humanities” Initiative, which includes my collaborative project on pre-modern literary manuscripts and cultural history, funded by French Cultural Services.

My abiding interest in the social power of literature and language led to my first book,in a feminist vein: The Master and Minerva, was a co-winner of the MLA Scaglione Prize (1995). I pursue this interest actively in my seminar on the History of Free Speech: France-USA where students study incitement to hatred, blasphemy, sedition, pornography, and the press under a ‘state of emergency’.  Today’s controversies are up for debate: Confederate monuments on Duke’s campus, as the recent string of attacks hitting French-speaking communities -  Paris, Beirut, Tunis, Bamako.  Journalists and other activists are regular guests guiding the class’s work.

Other seminars that I offer regularly: Imagining Europe, French Short Fiction, Cultural Memory.

In my work across campus, I co-convene the “inTransit: Arts of Migration” research group bringing together faculty from Romance Studies, Art, Art History and Visual Studies, as well as the Nasher Museum. With support from the Vice Provost of Interdisciplinary Studies, the group addresses the crisis of migration today by making its deep history visible. We concentrate on areas of the world where Romance languages are the lingua franca -- Europe, Africa, the Americas.   Students and colleagues are involved in a series of co-taught courses, a conference, leading to a small experimental installation in the fall 2018.  My focus is on Calais and the North of France : allegories, drawings, textiles expressing dispossession in this region, the Hundred Year’s War to the economic struggles and migrant camps now.

As Director of the Center for French and Francophone Studies (2013-17), I’ve been committed to cultivating collaborations between the Duke community and critics, writers, journalists, artists, as well as scholars from our partner institutions abroad.  I find nothing more rewarding than students who report how working with a writer deepens their understanding of the world, or colleagues who rediscover here how fruitful it is to think with literature --  à travers des langues.

Off campus, I’m also at work on a book of another style: a literary biography and family narrative set in Dublin-Paris.


  • Ph.D., University of Toronto (Canada) 1986

Solterer, H. Un Moyen Âge républicain : paradoxes du théâtre en temps de guerre. Trans. M Chénetier Alev. Presses universitaires Paris-Sorbonne, 2014.

Solterer, H. Medieval Roles in Modern Times: Theater and the Battle for the French Republic. The Pennsylvania State University Press, February 2010.

Solterer, H. European Medieval Studies under Fire, 1919-45. Ed. H Solterer. September 1997.

Solterer, H. The Master and Minerva: Disputing Women in French Medieval Culture. University of California Press, September 1995.

Solterer, H. "Another Land's End of Literature." Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns. Boydell & Brewer, March 17, 2016. 153-168. (Essay)

Solterer, H. ""Aimer un pays tout autre: Christine de Pizan, Alain Chartier, & Compagnie”." Sens, Rhétorique, et Musique : Études réunies en hommage à Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet. Ed. S Lefèvre, C Lucken, and E Doudet. Champion, 2015. 769-782. (Essay)

Solterer, H, and Dominguez, V. "Réactivations scéniques." Le Théâtre du XIIe au XIIe siècles. Ed. O Halévy, G Parussa, and D Smith. L’Avant-Scène, 2014.

Solterer, H. "Parcours d’un militant de théâtre: Moussa Abadi." Le texte critique : expérimenter le théâtre et le cinéma aux XXe et XXIe siècles. Ed. VVEMC Alev. Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2013. 207-220.

Solterer, H. "“Jouer le Moyen Âge: Gustave Cohen et la troupe théophilienne,”." Les Pères des études médiévales: examen critique de la constitution d’un savoir académique. Ed. M Bouhaïk-Gironès, V Dominguez, and J Koopmans. Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010. 255-281 [8 figures].

Solterer, H. "Theatre and Theatricality." The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2008. 181-194.

Solterer, H. "Making Names, Breaking Lives: Women & Injurious Language." Cultural Performances in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Nancy Freeman. Ed. E Doss-Quinby, R Krueger, and EJ Burns. Boydell & Brewer, 2007. 207-21.

Solterer, H. "Gustave Cohen at Pont-Holyoke : The Drama of Belonging to France." Artists, Intellectuals and World War II. Ed. C Benfey and K Remmler. University of Massachusetts Press, 2006. 145-161. (Essay)

Solterer, H. "Defense of Women." Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Ed. S Stuard, M Schaus, and T Izbicki. Routledge, 2005. 64-68.

Solterer, H. "La Belle Dame sans Merci." Medieval Women: An Encyclopedia. Ed. KM Wilson and N Margolis. New York: Greenwood Press, 2004. 80-84.


Solterer, H. "“Strange or Elegant or Foul Matter,”." Exemplaria, 25 (2013) (2013): 79-92. (Review, Essay)

Solterer, H. "review of Carol Symes, "A Common Stage:Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras." Theatre Survey 51 (2010): 135-137. (Review)

Solterer, H. "Fiction versus Defamation: The Quarrel over the Romance of the Rose." The Medieval History Journal 2 (1999): 111-141.

Solterer, H. "Performing pasts: A dialogue with Paul Zumthor." Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 27.3 (1997): 595-640.

Solterer, H. "The Waking of Medieval Theatricality, Paris 1935-1995." New Literary History 27 (1996): 257-290.

Solterer, H. "The Waking of Medieval Theatricality: Paris 1935-1995." New Literary History 27.3 (1996): 357-390. Full Text

SOLTERER, H. "Seeing, Hearing, Tasting Woman : The Senses of Medieval Reading." Comparative Literature 46.2 (1994): 129-145. Full Text

SOLTERER, H. "Dismembering, Remembering the Châtelain de Couci." Romance Philology 46.2 (November 1992): 103-124.


Solterer, H, and Delabroy, J. "Teaching Abroad With Obama." InsideHigherEd.com (2008). (Occasional Writing)

Solterer, H. "Teaching Free Speech in Times of War." InsiderHigherEd.com (September 2007). (Occasional Writing)