Dr Helen L Spencer

Medieval religious writing. I have published extensively on sermon literature, and am intending other publications on the Pearl-poet.

Currently working on 19th- and 20th-century biographical study of medieval scholarship, and the development of medieval English studies, especially the history of editing, for a full length study of the history of the Early English Text Society, which dominated the publishing of early English texts. An EETS edition still carries enormous prestige, resulting from readers’ expectations that it will be of the highest scholarly standards, and not easily available elsewhere. EETS was not originally intended to be an academic preserve; it was a large part of its creator, F. J. Furnivall’s patriotic intention to make texts illustrative of the nation’s cultural history available to anyone who could afford the one guinea subscription. The EETS cannot be divorced from developments in English syllabuses in universities and schools. Many of its leading members were actively engaged in philanthropic and educational initiatives. No history of literary scholarship (an area of study currently commanding considerable academic attention, especially in the U.S.) can ignore it. The Society has been served by leading scholars and lexicographers, thanks to its close association with the OED. Israel Gollancz, A. W. Pollard, R.W. Chambers, Robin Flower, C. T. Onions have been Directors; its committee has included James Murray, William Craigie, W. W. Greg, George Kane. In particular, Chambers, a charismatic and much admired scholar in his day, is revealed as a fascinating figure, whose literary interests concerned the Society long after his death in 1942. Two world wars meant that this is largely a history of British scholarship, but Furnivall sought to reconcile British scholars with the ‘new’ German philology, and there has been a warm ongoing relationship with the U.S. The history of the EETS, approaching its 150th anniversary, is largely based on unpublished private papers, and much of the material has not hitherto been studied.

Old English; Middle English; the English language.

Editorial Secretary of the Early English Text Society.

College Website 


  • Opening Plenary Lecture

  • 'The Mystical Philology of J. R. R. Tolkien and Sir Israel Gollancz: Monsters and Critics'

  • F. J. Furnivall’s Six of the Best: TheSix-Text Canterbury Talesand the Chaucer Society

  • F. J. Furnivall's Last Fling: The Wyclif Society and Anglo-German Scholarly Relations

  • Contemporary Kantian Metaphysics

  • More
List of site pages