Helen Solterer

Helen Solterer

Professor of Romance Studies

External address: 217B Language Center, Durham, NC 27708
Internal address: Box 90257, Durham, NC 27708-0257
Phone: (919) 660-3118
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 5-6 pm.
& by appt.

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.






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

Solterer, H. Timely Fictions. 2017.

Solterer, H. Un Moyen Âge républicain : paradoxes du théâtre en temps de guerre. Translated by 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, 2010.

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

Solterer, H. “Another Land's End of Literature.” Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns, Boydell & Brewer, 2016, pp. 153–68.

"Another Land’s End of Literature”.” Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies, Boydell & Brewer, 2016, pp. 153–68.

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, edited by S. Lefèvre et al., Champion, 2015, pp. 769–82.

Solterer, H., and Véronique Dominguez. “Réactivations scéniques.” Le Théâtre Du XIIe Au XIIe Siècles, edited by Olivier Halévy et al., 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, edited by Valérie Vignaux et Marion Chénetier Alev, Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2013, pp. 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, edited by Marie Bouhaïk-Gironès et al., Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010, pp. 255-281[8figures].

Solterer, H. “Theatre and Theatricality.” The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 181–94.

Solterer, H. “Making Names, Breaking Lives: Women & Injurious Language.” Cultural Performances in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Nancy Freeman, edited by Eglal Doss-Quinby et al., Boydell & Brewer, 2007, pp. 207–21.

Solterer, H. “Gustave Cohen at Pont-Holyoke : The Drama of Belonging to France.” Artists, Intellectuals and World War II, edited by C. Benfey and K. Remmler, University of Massachusetts Press, 2006, pp. 145–61.

Solterer, Helen. “Defense of Women.” Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, edited by Susan Stuard et al., Routledge, 2005, pp. 64–68.


Solterer, H. ““Strange or Elegant or Foul Matter,”.” Exemplaria, 25 (2013), 2013, pp. 79–92.

Solterer, H. “review of Jody Enders, Murder by Accident: Medieval Theater, Modern Media, Critical Intentions.” H France Review, vol. 10 (October), 2010.

Solterer, H. “review of Carol Symes, "A Common Stage:Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras.” Theatre Survey, vol. 51, 2010, pp. 135–37.

Solterer, H. “Fiction versus defamation: The quarrel over the tomance of the rose.” Medieval History Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, Dec. 1999, pp. 111–41. Scopus, doi:10.1177/097194589900200106. Full Text

Solterer, H. “Performing pasts: A dialogue with Paul Zumthor.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 27, no. 3, Duke University Press, 1997, pp. 595–640.

Solterer, H. “The Waking of Medieval Theatricality, Paris 1935-1995.” New Literary History, vol. 27, 1996, pp. 257–90.

Solterer, H. “The Waking of Medieval Theatricality: Paris 1935-1995.” New Literary History, vol. 27, no. 3, 1996, pp. 357–90. Manual, doi:10.1353/nlh.1996.0041. Full Text

SOLTERER, H. “Seeing, Hearing, Tasting Woman : The Senses of Medieval Reading.” Comparative Literature, vol. 46, no. 2, Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 129–45. Manual, doi:10.2307/1771574. Full Text

SOLTERER, H. “Dismembering, Remembering the Châtelain de Couci.” Romance Philology, vol. 46, no. 2, Nov. 1992, pp. 103–24.


Solterer, H., and J. Delabroy. “Teaching Abroad With Obama.” Insidehighered.Com, 2008.

Solterer, H. “Teaching Free Speech in Times of War.” Insiderhighered.Com, Sept. 2007.