Dr Jenni Nuttall

Jennifer Nuttall

We are devastated to learn of the death our colleague Dr Jenni Nuttall, Lecturer at Exeter College and member of the Faculty of English in Oxford. Jenni had been a much-loved member of our academic community over more than two decades. She was a student at Magdalen College, and briefly at the University of East Anglia, and a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College. She then spent long periods as Lecturer first at St Edmund’s Hall and then at Exeter College. She taught so many of us over the years to read more closely and to think more precisely, through her acute comments in every interaction, from tutorials to chats in the street. She had a deep understanding of the English language and an erudite grasp of its history and of medieval literature in particular.

She also taught many people beyond Oxford to read and think better, through her writing in print and online. Her first book, based on her Oxford DPhil. thesis, The Creation of Lancastrian Kingship (2007), was about the language of politics in the ‘troubly’ times of the 1400s. Her second grew from her inspiring teaching, as it offered A Readers’ Guide to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (2012); this became the essential handbook to this poem that every undergraduate comes to love. There was an edited book on Thomas Hoccleve (2022), an author whose searching self-reflection and poetic precision she had helped to revive from neglect to esteem. And her last book was the hugely successful Mother Tongue (2023), widely reviewed last year, in which she talks—sometimes from personal experience—about the way that the English language has shaped, and been shaped by, women’s experiences over the centuries.

For more than a decade Jenni also used open access websites and social media to share with a wide audience her deep understanding of the sounds, senses and structures of medieval literature. She published several online translations of medieval English and Scottish poetry, to encourage others to read it. And she used X/Twitter and her blog Stylisticienne to introduce people to medieval English words, poetic devices and well-spotted brilliant bits of writing. Around the blog and social media, there formed an admiring community of like-minded close readers of medieval English, inspired by her generosity in passing on her profound knowledge and her wit in communicating her critical nous.

One of her last translations, as ever published freely online, was from a poem Death and Liffe, in which Death’s arrival is heralded by:

A hard sound out of the north’s corner,
Something like a hunter’s horn, fiercest of anything,
The loudest noise you ever heard,
The sturdiest blast ever blown,
Ringing across the fields, rattling teeth.
Even the ground staggered, taken aback—

(Jenni Nuttall, in the issue ‘Invention’, of the free online journal Ancient Exchanges, https://exchanges.uiowa.edu/ancient/issues/invention/lady-death/, January 2023)


We shall miss her greatly.