Shelfie with Dr. Rachel Stenner

There’s a lot of Edmund Spenser on this shelf!

Just a bit.

Just a bit.

This is really reflective of my research because my thinking about this 16th century poet has been part of my scholarship since my undergraduate days at Kent. The Faerie Queene was the first big Renaissance text that I fell in love with and I remember very clearly realising that this romance epic was going to be a part of my life for a long time. Like lots of the other imaginative writing that grips me (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.J. Sansom for instance), Spenser creates an immersive world with its own inner codes. The core of my research is about printing and Spenser is a poet whose engagements with print culture are both radical and mystifying. He is constantly thinking about how to make things new – calling himself ‘the newe Poete’ as a sort of mission statement right at the start of his first mature work, The Shepheardes Calender – whilst at the same time lamenting the threat of ‘proud change’.

Next to Spenser you’ll see Geoffrey Chaucer, in my much-loved but completely disintegrating Riverside edition and the shiny, clean new one that I have yet to deface. Like Spenser is crucial to my thought, Chaucer is crucial to his, and, in fact, to lots of Renaissance literature. I was once told by a wonderful ex-supervisor that Chaucer ‘hangs around like the stench of garlic’ in the sixteenth century (Jane Griffiths, with characteristically poetic wit). Well, garlic makes me happy, and an important project for me at the moment is a collection of essays that I am co-editing about how the works of Chaucer and Spenser are related through time and across textual space.

A knotty problem that this work engages is periodisation, or, specifically for me, how to conceptualise the Renaissance and the Middle Ages as connected phenomena. I am writing a monograph about how people and technologies work together to create texts and books, and a key research issue for me is understanding how literary production changes over time, and how it feeds into cultural change. Jennifer Summit’s book, Memory’s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England (on the far right) and William Kuskin’s, Recursive Origins: Writing at the Transition to Modernity (with the green foot), are both indispensible for my take on this. Summit’s is a ground-breaking study of the institution of the post-Reformation library as both guardian and creator of the medieval past. Kuskin’s provocative book draws on ideas from artificial intelligence and linguistic theory to put forward what he calls an ‘algorithm’ (p. 8) for understanding the non-linear patterns of literary history.

Shakespeare’s on there because he is another old friend and Frida because she is one of my feminist heroines.

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