Raphaela Rohrhofer

Retaining Fee Lecturer

I am a lecturer in Medieval English at Somerville/Oxford specialising in late medieval contemplative writing and Julian of Norwich.

I work on the poetics of apophatic absorption (and the continuum from cataphatic representation that leads to the expression of the unsayable) and with religious and catechetical texts as well as (illuminated) manuscripts in Middle English and Latin. Building on a background in medieval literature and art history, other areas of interest are the relationship between the visual and the verbal, book history, and the material text.

My doctoral thesis, which I wrote at Oxford’s English Faculty under the supervision of Vincent Gillespie, examined the 14th-century visionary Julian of Norwich’s understanding of the divine, the self, and nothingness through the apophatic-cataphatic lenses of love and dread. Her theologically and linguistically highly complex and increasingly symbolistic work continues to exert profound influence to this day, notably in her famous dictum that ‘al shal be wele’, a phrase that speaks to the inherent paradox of mystical language to encompass abundance in fragmentation. I was the first person from my country (Austria) to be admitted to pursue a DPhil, and preceding MSt, in Medieval English at Oxford, and an MA in Medieval Art History at the Courtauld. I was also the first in my family to attend university.

The then newly discovered Chastising of God’s Children manuscript that the Bodleian Library acquired was my starter project at Oxford, and I began my work on it when it had not even been foliated. The first account uncovering the Latin source texts and strategic scribal alterations, including a manuscript tree, a transcription, and variants, came out with JEBS recently.

Before that, my first MA thesis was published as the book “Familial Discourses in the Book of Margery Kempe. ‘Blyssed be the wombe that the bar and the tetys that yaf the sowkyn’”, which has won several prizes and is now listed as one of 15 reference works on Margery Kempe’s life in Barry Windeatt’s new Penguin edition.

As a DPhil student, I was also a Junior Research Fellow at the Ashmolean Museum, a member of the “Talking Sense” research cluster, and the Academic Representative of Lady Margaret Hall’s MCR, preceded by a stint as a cataloguer for the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Gothic Ivories Project.

I have taught a wide range of texts from the early to the late Middle Ages at Lady Margaret Hall, Hertford, and Wadham, supervised undergraduate dissertations and lectured at Oxford’s English Faculty. At Somerville, I currently teach late-medieval English literature from 1350-1550.

I am a great opera and Lieder enthusiast, have been playing the piano all my life, and am interested in the history and interpretation of silence. Here is a recent article about me as a “hidden champion” that my previous university published (on page 7): https://www.paperturn-view.com/de/univie/univie-3-2021-screen?pid=MTM13337&v=17.15 and https://www.alumni.ac.at/univie-magazin.


"Blyssed be the wombe that the bar and the tetys that yaf the sowkyn". Familial Discourses in The Book of Margery Kempe
2014, MA dissertation, University of Vienna/Austria, supervisor: Prof. Franz Wöhrer

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