Helen Elizabeth Chambers, Emeritus


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Research overview

Modern German and Austrian literature, especially Theodor Fontane and Joseph Roth; Anglo-German cultural relations; women's writing; gender; reportage; reception history; literary translation.

My particular areas of expertise are in nineteenth and early twentieth-century German literature. I have worked extensively on Germany's major  realist novelist Theodor Fontane, particularly on the scholarly and more general reception of his work within and beyond Germany. I have also published on his poems and his journalism, particularly in relation to his experience of and interest in British culture.

I have expertise in work of the Austrian Jewish writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939), and have looked particularly at gender aspects, and at discursive practices in his literary reportage.

Through my work on both Fontane and Roth I have developed a research interest in literary irony, which has led to a major study of Humor and Irony in nineteenth-century German Women's Writing. Humor and irony are not widely recognised as characteristics of German writing, an in particular there is a widespread perception, not only in German-language culture, that these not female prerogatives, particularly not in the nineteenth century.

My research into the work of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Ida Hahn Hahn, Ottilie Wildermuth, Helene Böhlau, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Ada Christen, Clara Viebig, Isolde Kurz and Ricarda Huch shows otherwise.

There is a great deal more work to be done in this area. My most recent  book  concentrates on selected prose fiction  from 1840-1900. Further research projects in this area, could look at the function of humour and irony in other text types and genres, such as poetry, drama, travel writing, autobiography and letters, or in further areas of prose narrative.

In the area of reception history and Anglo-German cultural relations I have investigated why certain literary texts migrate across cultures at particular times: how Jane Austen was translated into German for example, or which parts of the Austrian Charles Sealsfield's opus found its way into British culture and when.  This kind of research is bound up with questions of cultural identity, a primary focus in the School of Modern Languages at St Andrews.

Research interests

Modern German and Austrian literature, especially Theodor Fontane and Joseph Roth; Anglo-German cultural relations; women's writing; gender; reportage; literary translation,

My book on Humor and irony in Nineteenth-Century German Women's Writing: Studies in Prose Fiction 1840-1900 appeared on 2007. This has been and remains an area of my research interest.

As General Editor of the Series Cultural Identity Studies, published by Peter Lang,I play an active role in encouraging and disseminating scholarship in this interdisciplinary area.

The first volume appeared in 2006:

Helen Chambers (ed.), Violence, Culture and Identity. Essays on German and Austrian Literature, Politics and Society.

30 volumes have appeared to date, with more in prepration.

Future research


I am currently working on  Theodor Fontane in the area of comparative literature and of his poetry in German-British context and also on Joseph Roth in translation.

Academic/Professional Qualification

MA, French and German, University of Glasgow; PhD, University of Glasgow; Theodor Fontane Gesellschaft; Schillergesellschaft; Conference of University Teachers of German in Scotland (Convenor)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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