Elizabeth Abel

Professor and John F. Hotchkis Chair in English

My work spans two broad fields of inquiry. The first is gender and sexuality, psychoanalysis, and twentieth-century fiction (with a focus on Virginia Woolf). My first book, Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (1989), uncovered the legacies of Freud and Melanie Klein in Woolf’s narrative strategies.  My new book Odd Affinities: Virginia Woolf’s Shadow Genealogies (2024), explores the afterlives of Virginia Woolf in unexpected places and cultural traditions across the twentieth century: not the popular cultural appropriations, but the subtle resonances and subtextual conversations that are audible in writers as diverse as Nella Larsen, James Baldwin, Roland Barthes, and W.G. Sebald.

My second area of inquiry is race, cultural studies, and visuality.  This inquiry culminated in my second book, Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow (2010), which charts the cultural history of segregation signs through their mediation by photography.

Current Research: 

My current research addresses the concept of resonance as a framework for mapping literary transmission. Sponsored by the France-Berkeley Fund, a series of colloquia in Paris and Berkeley (2019, 2022) brought French and American scholars from a range of disciplines together to elicit the resonances of Virginia Woolf’s writing across diverse cultures and mediums. In spring, 2024, a final colloquium will expand our frame to include a broad spectrum of writers and musicians. My co-organizers and I plan to collect the papers from this colloquium in a volume that we hope will spark an ongoing inquiry.



Selected Publications

Odd Affinities: Virginia Woolf's Shadow Genealogies (Chicago, 2024)

Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow   (California, 2010).

Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis  (Chicago, 1989).

Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, ed. (California, 1997).

Writing and Sexual Difference, ed. (Chicago, 1982).

The Signs Reader: Women, Gender, and Scholarship, ed. (Chicago, 1983)

"Race, Class, and Psychoanalysis? Opening Questions," in Conflicts in Feminism, ed. Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller (New York, 1990)

"Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation," Critical Inquiry 19, 3 (Spring 1993)

"Domestic Borders, Cultural Boundaries: Black Feminists Re-view the Family," The Familial Gaze, ed. Marianne Hirsch (Hanover, NH, 1999)

"Bathroom Doors and Drinking Fountains: Jim Crow's Racial Symbolic," Critical Inquiry 25 (Spring 1999)

"Mania, Depression, and the Future of Theory, Critical Inquiry 30, 2 (Winter 2004)

"Shadows," Representations 84 (Spring 2004)

“Double Take: Photography, Cinema, and the Segregated Theater,” Critical Inquiry 34, 5 (Winter 2007)

“American Graffiti: The Social Life of Segregation Signs,” African American Review 42, 1 (2008)

“Racial Panic, Taboo, and Technology in the Age of Obama,” Trans-scripts, I (February, 2011)

“History at a Standstill: Agency and Gender in the Image of Civil Rights,” in Picturing Atrocity (London, 2012)

 “Skin, Flesh, and the Affective Wrinkles of Civil Rights Photography,” Qui Parle (Spring, 2012); reprinted in English Language Notes (Spring/Summer 2013) and Feeling    Photography, ed. Elspeth H. Brown and Thy Phu (Durham, 2013)

“The Victorian Cook’s Modern Character,” Centenary Essays on Virginia Woolf’s 1910, ed. Makiko Minow-Pinckney (Illuminati, 2013)

“Spaces of Time: Virginia Woolf’s Life-Writing,” Modernism and Autobiography, ed. Maria DiBattista and Emily Wittman (Cambridge, 2014)

“Light Rooms: Medium, Mourning, Mania,” Critical Inquiry,45 (Autumn 2018)

“Repair Work, Despair Work: W.G. Sebald’s Contending Modernisms,” Contemporary Revolutions: Turning Back to the Future in 21st Century Literature and Art, ed. Susan Stanford Friedman (Bloomsbury, 2018)

“Jim Crow Signs,” The World of Jim Crow America: Daily Life Encyclopedia, ed. Steven A. Reich (Greenwood, 2019)

“Thinking Back through Our Mothers: The Legacies of Nancy Chodorow,” Nancy Chodorow and the Reproduction of Mothering: Forty Years Oned. Petra Bueskins and Tanya Cassidy (Palgrave, 2020)


424 Wheeler

Spring 2024 Office Hours

Mon Weds 12:30-1:30 and by appointment

Classes Taught