Richard Rolle and His Readers: Defining the Literary in the Fifteenth Century


ACLS Fellowship Program




This study examines the vast fifteenth-century readership of the writings of the fourteenth-century Yorkshire hermit, Richard Rolle, as an alternative to more conventional English literary histories that follow the fortunes of Geoffrey Chaucer. Through a series of case studies based on particular manuscripts, it surveys Rolle’s different audiences, analyzing their appropriations of his writings through translation, compilation, annotation, and versification, in terms of the spiritual concerns they invested in him during a time of religious controversy. In this way, it seeks a broader, more historically accurate understanding of the definitions and stakes of “literary” writing in the late medieval period by looking beyond imaginative fiction to consider appropriations of Rolle’s religious prose.