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Hal Hellwig

Hal Hellwig

Professor of English

Office: LA 207-D



PhD in English (1985), University of California, Los Angeles

MA in English (1976), California State University, Fullerton

BA in English (1972), State University of New York, Buffalo

I’m a recognized Mark Twain scholar, having published a book on his travel works, and presenting numerous conference or invited papers on his work internationally and nationally.  I will also complete a book on the influence of American literature on film noir this year. 

I have expanded my work on travel to about 45 American writers, artists, and sculptors who traveled to or lived in Italy, primarily Venice, with a focus on their secular appropriation of religious concepts.

Religion in Italy means a daily awareness of the imminent death of the physical being, with a promise of an afterlife of eternal glory, with the promise of redemption and salvation. The general design of a Catholic church depends on the cruciform shape, a transept crossing a larger nave, the building's shape resembling Christ's cross. The ceiling often represents Heaven, a tower pointing toward the afterlife. Most Venetian churches demonstrate the wealth of Venice in its prime, with art symbolic of the unity of purpose between the earthly and the divine (economic dominance and religious zeal); Tintoretto's Last Supper in the chiesa of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, aside from being a didactic religious portrayal, captures the sense of the worldly domain (resembling a Venetian inn, with servants) watched over by a heavenly realm (a radical use of light, with God's servants, angels, overhead).

I spent some time in 2017 at the Vittore Branca Center, a residential center sponsored by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini (an educational/cultural institution based on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore), working in the Nuova Manica Lunga, a library with extensive material on art history, on the culture of Venice, on music, on theatre, and on literature.

I'm first going to finish a book on film noir. A definition of film noir tends to circle around the notion that an individual (usually male) finds himself lost in an urban setting, beset by corrupt or criminal characters, teased or seduced by a devious woman (the stock character, femme fatale), and attempts to right wrongs committed in that film. Usually the setting includes a diseased large urban area--Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York the usual cesspools of humanity--with these cities described in terms of a labyrinth or maze, which the protagonist needs to negotiate in order to survive. It rains a lot, daylight scenes are rare, and the city is filled with dark creatures of the night. Film noir is, as claimed by most critics, a relatively minor and recent offshoot of American culture, until the Europeans (French critics) discovered this American innovation.

I argue that film noir depends a good deal on the literature embedded in American culture well before the immediate experiences and influences of the 1930's, that American literature of earlier periods- to those writers deriving from the Transcendentalist period- helped created the environment for film noir.

The following major themes or concepts guide this connection between American literature and film noir: identity, community, deception, nostalgia, travel (as mythic journey), memory, and moral guidance. Many American writers struggle with the notion that mankind can be complicit in its own destruction or salvation, and that one person is still finally responsible for one's actions, while still attempting to change the course of that movement toward safety or/and risk. A university press is conducting its second review of this project.

I have expertise in the fields of rhetoric and composition, with publications in those areas, and with administrative experience as the Director of Composition (nearly nine years). I have been the General Editor of a previous self-study accreditation report for ISU, and apparently am doing something similar for this year. I am a Consulting Editor for The Explicator (nearly ten years). Some of my former students have done well (employed as university professors, business executives, technical writers); one recently (2019) received a $1,000 award for his entry in the Norton Writer's Prize contest (a national recognition, with a lot of Yale students winning before this year).


Mark Twain's Travel Literature: The Odyssey of a Mind. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press (2008).

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

Frasier: A Film Noir Comedy,” Journal of Popular Film and Television. Volume 48, Issue 1. 2-12.

Book Review: Mark Twain Annual, Volume 16, 186-189. On Wonder and Irony with Henry James and Mark Twain in the Venice Ducal Palace. Rosella Mamoli Zorzi. Venice: Supernova, 2018.

Book Review: South Central Review: The Journal of the South Central Modern Language Association. Vol. 34, No. 2. Summer 2017. On Faulkner and Film, edited by Philip Lurie and Ann J. Abadie, introduction by Philip Lurie. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. 72-75.

“William Blake’s Jerusalem and the Los Angeles of Film Noir,” Philosophy and Literature, Volume 38, Number 1, April 2014.

"Venice and the Decline of the West: Henry James, Mark Twain, and the Memorials of the Past," Henry James Today, John Carlos Rowe, editor, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014.

Recent Presentations

"Venice, Italy, and the Influence on Twain's Life and Satire on Capitalism," 'Humor in America' conference sponsored by the American Humor Studies Association and the Mark Twain Circle of America. Chicago, Illinois. July 12-14, 2018.

"'Innocence at Home': Mark Twain's Italian Villa, Stormfield, and the Cultural Influence of Italy on Quarry Farm." The Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. Elmira College, New York. August 5, 2017.

"Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad: Among the Monuments of Time." Presented to the faculty and students at the University of Venice. April 10, 2017. Ca'Bernardo, Sala B. Organizzato da Daniela Ciari Forza. Universta Ca'Foscari Venezia. Dipartimento di Studie Linguistici e Culturali Comparati.

"Venice: Mark Twain, A Vulgar Tourist Among the Phantoms of Poetry and Romance." Mark Twain Special Session. Dallas, Texas: South Central Modern Language Association Convention, November 3, 2016.

"Classroom Example of Twain's Following the Equator as a Digital Edition." Program arranged by the Modern Language Association Committee on Scholarly Editions, a session entitled "Pedagogy and Digital Editions." Vancouver: Modern Language Association Convention. January 2015.

"'Innocence at Home': Stormfield, Quarry Farm, and Mark Twain's Amanuensis of Time." The Seventh International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. Elmira College, New York. August 2, 2013.

"Venice: Confluence of Images, Myth, and Vision," Henry James, Mark Twain, and Globalization. Program arranged by the Mark Twain Circle of America and the Henry James Society. Boston, Massachusetts: Modern Language Association Convention, January 4, 2013.

Courses Taught

I’ve taught the following courses, among many others:                   

English 6666: Nineteenth Century Literature - Travel Literature

English 6627: Major Authors - Mark Twain

English 6621: Place in Detective Fiction (partially online)

English 3353: The West in American Literature

English 3308: Business Communications (both classroom and online)

English 3307: Professional and Technical Writing (both classroom and online)

English 1126: Art of Film I

English 1102: Writing and Rhetoric II (both classroom and online)