Telephone number: 01865 284066
Role: J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language; Professorial Fellow
MA DPhil Oxf, FBA FSA FRHistS FEA
I have been J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language since October 2004. Between 1980 and 2004 I was a Fellow of St Anne’s College Oxford, where I am now an Honorary Fellow. I began teaching at the University of Reading, where I was a lecturer from 1977-1980.
My research considers the broad range of post-conquest writing in England, with particular interests in literary theory, religious writing, mystical language, and concepts of poetic identity in medieval and early modern writers. I also publish on modern British drama (especially Harold Pinter).
At the core of most of what I do is a curiosity about the psychology of literary response: the ways in which writers struggle to express experiences and acts of imagination, the strategies they use to articulate their understanding of these experiences and imaginative acts, and the codes and conventions that develop between texts and readers to allow communication and understanding to develop and to be manipulated. When I began writing, this curiosity was focussed under the banner of ‘affectivity’, and that still usefully expresses a central facet of my work: how writing can engage with the affectus, and can work with and against the intellectus, to produce new and often more profoundly supra-rational acts of knowledge and understanding. What the Arabs called ‘the imaginative syllogism’ drives my interest in medieval poetic (as sharply distinguished from rhetorical) theory as it can be recovered from commentaries and theoretical writings from the twelfth through to the sixteenth centuries.
My long standing interest in contemplative writing fits very precisely into this category of exploration. Religious texts always seek to make an impact within a recoverable target range of acceptable responses, and the techniques they use offer fascinating fields for analysis, not least because those impacts are rarely sufficient in themselves and so always gesture to their own effacement as part of an ongoing and continuous process of cognitive and emotional understanding. These texts are songs from the threshold of lived experience, struggling to articulate and communicate ineffable showings or transcendent encounters. Hence my continuing fascination with Julian of Norwich, and her highly sophisticated and playfully manipulative relationship with the broad spectrum of religious writing in her period. This interest has linked back towards my original researches into catechetic and pastoral literature to give me an unusually broad view of, and sharp perspective on the field of ‘vernacular theology’ as it is now constituted. It also fuels my growing desire to explore the (as yet largely unarticulated) linguistic and semantic theory and (very substantial) praxis lying behind the extensive vernacular translation of orthodox religious texts in the fifteenth. These interests long predate the recent ‘religious turn’, and the even more recent ‘cognitive turn’, and my work and my teaching have had some impact on shaping both. Fundamental to this work, however, is another pillar of my scholarly priorities: that such texts have to be seen against the deep background of their contemporary textual, social and intellectual environment. Hence my interest in Julian’s parodic and imitative citation of the tones and modes of other genres of religious writing, and my belief that there is a definable spectrum of religious writing, and that scholars must command all of that spectrum to be able to understand any part of it.
My interest in deep context also drives my work on History of the Book. I am an enthusiast for ‘total codicology’– the evolution of palaeography into a highly detailed and finessed form of material and cultural history. No matter how abstract the ideas, the manuscripts and early printed books always have things to tell us, often in unexpected aspects of layout, ordinatio and metatext, as well as the more expected (and often exquisitely historically layered) signs of readerly response. How books look affects how we perceive them: why they look the way they do, and how they should look in modern editions of medieval texts, is an abiding fascination. (Indeed my standard approach to any research question tends to be ‘how does it happen’ and ‘why does it happen’.)
Most of my teaching and supervision is for students on the Masters or doctoral programmes, though I sometimes supervise undergraduate dissertations. My lecturing for the Faculty of English is open to undergraduate and graduate students.
1. The English Medieval Book: Essays in Memory of Jeremy Griffiths, ed. A.S.G. Edwards, Vincent Gillespie and Ralph Hanna, The British Library Studies in the History of the Book (London, 2000). xii + 264 pp.
2. Syon Abbey, Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues 9 (London, 2001). lxxiii + 819 pp. [published with The Libraries of the Carthusians, ed. A. I. Doyle.]
3. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Samuel Fanous (Cambridge, 2011 ). xxviii + 309pp. [A Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2012]
4. After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Kantik Ghosh (Turnhout, 2011). xx + 657pp.
5. Looking in Holy Books: Essays on Late Medieval Religious Writing in England (Turnhout, 2012). xviii + 348pp.
6. Probable Truth: Editing Medieval Texts from Britain in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Anne Hudson (Turnhout, 2013). xiv + 549pp.
7. A Companion to the Early Printed Book in Britain, 1476-1558, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Susan Powell (Cambridge, 2014). xviii + 385pp.
Articles and Chapters in Collaborative Books
1. 'Doctrina and Predicacio: The Design and Function of some Pastoral Manuals,' Leeds Studies in English, New Ser., 11 (1980 for 1979), 36-50.
2. 'Justification by Good Works: Skelton's The Garland of Laurel,' Reading Medieval Studies, 7 (1981), 19-31.
3. 'Mystic's Foot: Rolle and Affectivity,' in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, II, ed. M. Glasscoe (Exeter, 1982), pp. 199-230.
4. 'A Syon Manuscript Reconsidered,' Notes and Queries, New Ser., 30 (1983), 203-5.
5. (with Michael Sargent), 'Was Mechtild of Hackeborn's Booke of Gostlye Grace translated from Middle Dutch? Some Observations,' Ons Geestelijk Erf, 54 (1983), 343-54.
6. 'The Cibus Anime Book 3: A Guide for Contemplatives?,' Analecta Cartusiana, 35 (1983), 90-119.
7. 'Lukynge in haly bukes: Lectio in some Late Medieval Spiritual Miscellanies,' Analecta Cartusiana, 106 (1984), 1-27.
8. 'Strange Images of Death: The Passion in Later Medieval English Devotional and Mystical Writing,' Analecta Cartusiana, 117 (1987), 110-159.
9. 'Cura Pastoralis in Deserto,' in De Cella in Seculum: Religious and Secular Life and Devotion in Late Medieval England, ed. M. Sargent (Cambridge, 1987), pp.161-181.
10. 'The Evolution of the Speculum Christiani,' in Latin and Vernacular: Studies in Late-Medieval Texts and Manuscripts, ed. A.J.Minnis (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 39-62.
11. 'Vernacular Books of Religion,' in Book Production and Publishing in Britain 1375-1475, ed. J. Griffiths and D. Pearsall, Cambridge Studies in Publishing and Printing History (Cambridge, 1989), pp.317-344.
12. 'Idols and Images: Pastoral Adaptations of The Scale of Perfection,' in Langland, the Mystics and the Medieval English Religious Tradition: Essays in Honour of S.S.Hussey, ed. H. Phillips (Cambridge, 1990), pp.97-123.
13. (with Maggie Ross) 'The Apophatic Image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich,' in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, V, ed. M. Glasscoe (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 53-77.
14. 'Thy Will Be Done: Piers Plowman and the Pater Noster,' in Middle English Religious Texts and Their Transmission: Essays in Honour of Ian Doyle, ed. A.J.Minnis (Cambridge,1994), pp.95-119.
15. 'Postcards from the Edge: Interpreting the Ineffable in the Middle English Mystics,' in Interpretation Medieval and Modern: The J.A.W.Bennett Memorial Lectures: Perugia 1992, ed P. Boitani and A.Torti (Cambridge, 1993), pp.137-165.
16. 'Never Look a Gift Horace in the Mouth: Affective Poetics in the Middle Ages,' Litteraria Pragensia, 10 (1995), 59-82.
17. 'Medieval Hypertext: Image and Text from York Minster,' in Of the Making of Books: Medieval Manuscripts, their Scribes and Readers: Essays presented to M. B. Parkes, ed. P. R. Robinson and R. Zim (Aldershot, 1997), pp. 206-229.
18. 'Justification by Faith: Skelton's Replycacion,' in The Long Fifteenth Century: Essays for Douglas Gray, ed. H. Cooper and S. Mapstone (Oxford, 1997), pp. 273-311.
19. 'Malcolm Parkes: an Appreciation,' in The Record: Keble College Oxford (1997).
20. (with Rick Rylance and Judy Simons) The English Curriculum: Diversity and Standards, Council for College and University English (1997).
21. 'The Book and the Brotherhood: Reflections on the Lost Library of Syon Abbey,' in The English Medieval Book: Essays in Memory of Jeremy Griffiths (London, 2000), pp. 185-208.
22. 'Jeremy Griffiths,' in The English Medieval Book: Essays in Memory of Jeremy Griffiths (London, 2000), pp. 1-7.
23. 'Dial M for Mystic: Mystical Texts in the Library of Syon Abbey and the Spirituality of the Syon Brethren,' in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, VI, ed. M. Glasscoe (Cambridge, 1999), pp.241-68.
24. Revision and expansion of 'The Twentieth Century. Introduction: Drama,' in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, seventh edition, ed. M. H. Abrams, S. Greenblatt et al. (New York and London, 2000), 2. 1910-1913.
25. 'Harold Pinter,' in Literature in Context, ed. J. Simons & R. Rylance (London, 2001), pp. 187-207.
26. 'Syon and the New Learning,' in The Religious Orders in Pre-Reformation England, ed. James G. Clark, Studies in the History of Medieval Religion 18 (Woodbridge, 2002), pp. 75-95.
27. 'Walter Hilton at Syon Abbey, in 'Stand up to Godwards': Essays in Mystical and Monastic Theology in Honour of the Reverend John Clark on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed James Hogg, Analecta Cartusiana 204 (Salzburg, 2002), pp. 9-61.
28. 'Preface,' in Tarjei Park, Selfhood and Gostly Menyng in Some Middle English Mystics: Semiotic Approaches to Contemplative Theology, Toronto Studies in Theology 84 (Lewiston, NY, 2002), pp. ix-xiii.
- 'We shall be changed,' The Way, May 2003, 90-101.
- 'Hid Diuinite: The Spirituality of the English Syon Brethren,' in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, 7, ed. E. Jones (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 189-206.
- 'The Study of Classical and Secular Authors from the Twelfth Century to c.1450,' in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, II: The Medieval Period, ed. A.J. Minnis and Ian Johnson (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 145-235.
- 'Anonymous Devotional Writings,' in A Companion to Middle English Prose, ed. A. S. G. Edwards (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 127-149.
- 'The Mole in the Vineyard: Wyclif at Syon in the Fifteenth Century,' in Text and Controversy from Wyclif to Bale: Essays in Honour of Anne Hudson, ed. H. Barr and A. M. Hutchison, Medieval Church Studies 4 (Turnhout, 2005), pp. 131-162.
- (with Maggie Ross) ''With Mekeness Aske Perseverantly...': On Reading Julian of Norwich,' Mystics Quarterly, 30 (2004), 125-140.
- ‘Syon and the English Market for Continental Printed Books: The Incunable Phase,’ Religion and Literature (University of Notre Dame), 37.2 (2005), 1-23.
- 'Moral and Penitential Lyrics,' in A Companion to the Middle English Lyric, ed. Thomas G. Duncan (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 68-95.
- (a) 'The Haunted Text: Reflections in The Mirrour to Deuote Peple,' in The Text in the Community: Essays on Medieval Works, Manuscripts, Authors and Readers ed. J. Mann and M. Nolan (Notre Dame, 2006), pp. 129-172.
(b) 'The Haunted Text: Reflections in The Mirrour to Deuote Peple,' in Medieval Texts and Contexts, ed. Denis Renevey and Graham D. Caie, Context and Genre in English Literature (London, 2008), pp. 136-66. A revised and slightly expanded version of 37(a).
- ‘Vernacular Theology,’ in Middle English: Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford, 2007), pp. 401-20.
- ‘Religious Writing,’ in The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, vol. 1: 700-1550, ed. Roger Ellis (Oxford, 2008), pp. 234-83.
- ‘Chapter and Worse: An Episode in the Regional Transmission of the Speculum Christiani,’ in English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700, 14 (The British Library, 2008), pp. 86-111.
- ‘‘[S]he Do the Police in Different Voices’: Pastiche, Ventriloquism and Parody in Julian of Norwich,’ in A Companion to Julian of Norwich, ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2008), pp. 192-207.
- ‘On Allegory, Allegoresis and the Erotics of Reading,’ in On Allegory: Some Medieval Aspects and Approaches, with an Introduction by Eric Stanley and an Afterword by Vincent Gillespie, ed. Mary Carr, K.P. Clarke & Marco Nievergelt (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008), pp. 231-56.
- ‘Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Some Compact Imaginations in Chaucer and Medieval Literary Theory,’ in Shakespeare Modernism Translation: From translator’s Art to Academic Discourse. A Tribute to Martin Hilsky MBE, ed. Martin Procházka and Jan Čermák, Litteraria Pragensia (Prague, 2008), pp. 11-39.
- ‘Lady Margaret Beaufort,’ The Brown Book: A Commemorative Edition for the 500th Anniversary of the Death of Lady Margaret Beaufort (Oxford, 2009), pp. 29-35.
- ‘Meat, Metaphor and Mysticism: Cooking the Books in The Doctrine of the Heart,’ in A Companion to the Doctrine of the Heart: The Middle English Translation and its Latin and European Contexts, ed. Denis Renevey and Christiania Whitehead, Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies (Exeter, 2010), pp. 131-58.
- ‘Monasticism,’ in Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History, ed. Brian Cummings and James Simpson, Oxford Twenty First Century Approaches (Oxford, 2010), pp. 480-501.
- ‘Syon and the English Market for Continental Printed Books: The Incunable Phase,’ in Syon Abbey and its Books, ed. E.A. Jones and Alexandra Walsham (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 104-28. A revised, updated, and expanded version of publication 35.
- ‘Preface’ (pp. ix-xiv); ‘Chronology’ (pp. xv-xxvii); ‘1412-1534: Culture and History’ (pp. 163-93); ‘Glossary of Theological Terms’ (pp. 291-7), in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Samuel Fanous (Cambridge, 2011).
- ‘Dead Still/Still Dead,’ The Mediaeval Journal, 1 (2011), 53-78.
- ‘Chichele’s Church: Vernacular Theology after Thomas Arundel,’ in After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Kantik Ghosh (Turnhout, 2011), pp. 3-42.
- ‘Preface,’ in The Middle English version of De viribus herbarum, ed. Javier Calle-Martin and Antonio Miranda-Garcia (Berlin, 2012), pp. 13-20.
- ‘”Venus in Sackcloth”: the Digby Mary Magdalene and Wisdom fragment,' in The Oxford Handbook to Tudor Drama, ed. Tom Betteridge and Greg Walker (Oxford, 2012), pp. 72-92.
- ‘The Colours of Contemplation: Less Light on Julian of Norwich,’ in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, VIII, ed. E. Jones (Cambridge, 2013),pp. 7-28.
- ‘Authorship,’ in A Handbook of Middle English Studies, ed. Marion Turner (Oxford, 2013), pp. 137-
- ‘Sacerdotis predicacio operibus confirmanda est: The Martiloge of the Syon Brethren,’ in Preaching the Word in Manuscript and Print in Late Medieval England, ed. Martha W. Driver and Veronica O’Mara (Turnhout, 2013), pp. 133-60.
- ‘Fatherless Books: Authorship, Attribution and Orthodoxy in Later Medieval England,’ in The Pseudo-Bonaventuran Lives of Christ: Exploring the Middle English Tradition, ed. Ian Johnson and Allan Westphall (Turnhout, 2013), pp. 151-96.
- ‘The Senses in Literature: The Textures of Perception,’ in A Cultural History of the Senses in the Middle Ages, ed. Richard G. Newhauser (Bloomsbury, 2014), pp. 153-73.
- 'Dame Study’s Anatomical Curse: A Scatological Parody?,’ in 'Truthe is the beste': A Festschrift in Honour of A.V.C. Schmidt, ed. Gerald Morgan and Nicolas Jacobs, Court Cultures of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 1 (Peter Lang, 2014), pp. 95-107.
- ‘The Songs of the Threshold: Enargeia and the Psalter’, in The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: From the Conversion to the Reformation, ed. Francis Leneghan and Tamara Atkin (Boydell and Brewer, 2017), pp. 271-97.
- ‘The Nearly Man: ‘Saint’ Richard Rolle and His Textual Cult’, in Saints and Cults in Medieval England, Harlaxton Medieval Studies 27, ed. Susan Powell (Shaun Tyas, 2017), pp. 156-71.
- 'Seek, Suffer and Trust: Ese and Disese in Julian of Norwich', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 39 (2017), 129-58.
- ‘Ralph Hanna’, in Pursuing Middle English Manuscripts and their Texts. Essays in Honour of Ralph Hanna, ed. Simon Horobin and Aditi Nafde (Brepols, 2018), pp.xi-xviii.
- ‘Ethice subponitur: The Imaginative Syllogism and the Idea of the Poetic’, in Medieval Thought Experiments: Poetry, Hypothesis, and Experience in the European Middle Ages, ed. Philip Knox, Jonathan Morton, and Daniel Reeve, DISPUTATIO 31 (Brepols, 2018), pp. 223-45.
- ‘Visionary Women and their Books in the Library of the Brethren of Syon’, in Books and Bookmen in Early Modern Britain, ed. James Willoughby and Jeremy Catto (PIMS, 2018), pp. 40-63.
- ‘S.S. Hussey (1925-2004)’, in Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection Book II, begun by S.S. Hussey, completed by Michael G. Sargent, EETS, OS 348 (2017 for 2016), pp. v-ix.
- ‘Malcolm Beckwith Parkes, 1930-2013’, in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy, 17 (2018): https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/biographical-memoirs-fellows-british-academy-xvii
(c) At Press
- ‘Building a Bestseller: The Priest and the Peartree’, in Medieval Devotional Compilations, ed. Denis Renevey, Marleen Cre and Diana Dennison (Brepols).
- ‘‘Privy Tuchyngs of Swete Gostly Syghts’: Reciprocal Longing in Julian of Norwich’, in ID QUOD VOLO: THE DYNAMICS OF DESIRE IN THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES AND POSTMODERNITY, ed. James Hanvey and Travis LaCouter (Brill).
- ‘The Permeable Cloister? Charterhouses, Contemplation, and Urban Piety in Later Medieval England: The Case of London’, in Church and Society, ed. Christian Steer and David Harry (Shaun Tyas).
- 'Chaucer and the Classics', in Geoffrey Chaucer in Context, ed. Ian Johnson (CUP).
- ‘Preaching to the Choir: Another Look at English Carthusian Transmission of Vernacular Spiritual Writings’, in The Carthusians in the City: History, Culture and Martyrdom at the London Charterhouse c. 1370-1555, ed. Julian Luxford (Toronto UP)
Numerous reviews in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Medium Aevum, Essays in Criticism, The Library, Notes and Queries, Modern Language Review, Mystics Quarterly, Review of English Studies, Yearbook of Langland Studies, English Historical Review, The Ricardian.
Work in progress
- Reverend History: The Brethren of Syon and the Religious Culture of Later Medieval England. A monograph to provide a comprehensive account of English religious culture in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. This will extend my research on the Birgittine House at Syon, including extensive use of unedited materials, and using it as a core of my account of changing attitudes and evolving vectors in religious book production and publishing.
- A Short History of Medieval English Mysticism, under contract with I. B. Tauris. 85,000 words.
- Approued Women: Birgitta of Sweden and the Politics of Late Medieval English Spirituality, to be published as a short monograph by PIMS, Toronto.
- After Chichele: Intellectual and Cultural Dynamics of the English Church 1443 to 1517, ed. Mishtooni Bose and Vincent Gillespie (Brepols)
- I am associate editor (with Richard Newhauser, Katie Walter and Jessica Rosenfeld) of The Chaucer Encyclopedia. It will be published by Wiley-Blackwell online and in hard copy in four volumes totaling ca. 650 pages with around 1400 entries and about one million words.