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). The second is race, cultural studies, and visuality. I recently completed Signs of the Times:  The Visual Politics of Jim Crow, which charts the cultural history of segregation signs through their mediation by photography. My current project explores the afterlives of Virginia Woolf in unexpected places and cultural traditions across the twentieth century: not the popular cultural appropriations that have generated explicit revisions of her novels and emblazoned her image on coffee mugs and t-shirts, but the subtle resonances and subtextual conversations that are audible in writers as diverse as Nella Larsen, Roland Barthes, and W.G. Sebald.

Current Research: 

Woolf Tracks: Remapping Modernist Genealogies (a study of subtextual engagements with Woolf across the twentieth century); "Bright Radiance" (on photography as "light-writing," psychoanalytic accounts of mania, and maternal elegies); “As a reader of Virginia Woolf”: W.G. Sebald’s Modernist Legacies" (for inclusion in a volume on "Contemporary Revolutions"); "'Be English if you want': Nella Larsen and Virginia Woolf" (on echoes of Woolf in the Harlem Renaissance).


Selected Publications

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), 166-199.

“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)

“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).


424 Wheeler

Office Hours

Tuesday/Thursday 12:30-2:00 and by appointment on zoom