LRB Podcasts

This year Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley returned to the LRB with a twelve-part Close Readings series, Medieval Beginnings, exploring the strange and wonderful literary landscape of the Middle Ages. Starting in January 2023, the series considered well-known works such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as many lesser-known texts, from across the European continent, that have all helped to lay the foundations of English literature. Listen to a sample here from their first episode, on Beowulf.

Close Readings:

Encounters with Medieval Women

In their 2023 podcast miniseries, Mary Wellesley and Irina Dumitrescu looked at the lives and voices of women in medieval literature through four key texts, ranging roughly from the year 300 to 1500. The episodes featured Mary of Egypt, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and the Wife of Bath.


Episode 1: Repentant Sinner

Saint Mary of Egypt, who (if she existed) lived sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries, led a wild and licentious youth before serving penitence in the desert, and went on to teach the value of living an imperfect life.

Episode 2: Anchoress

Julian of Norwich (c.1343-after 1416) lived in permanent seclusion for much of her life. Her Revelations of Divine Love is the first book in English known to be written by a woman.

Episode 3: Storyteller

The Wife of Bath’s prologue in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales challenged many of the conventions of a woman’s role in medieval society.

Episode 4: Firebrand

Irina and Mary look at the life and work of pilgrim, entrepreneur and visionary mystic Margery Kempe, who dictated what is thought to be the first autobiography in English.

As part of his Something Understood series, BBC broadcaster Mark Tully investigates the resurgence of interest in Mother Julian of Norwich.


MOTHER JULIAN was an anchoress, or hermit, who shut herself up in a cell, following a series of visions of Christ during a dangerous illness. She referred to herself as “a simple creature” and yet has been described as “the greatest English theologian”.

Mark looks at the earliest manuscripts of her Revelations of Divine Love with bibliographic historian Dr Mary Wellesley at the British Library, and discusses the powerful appeal of the book considered to be the first by a woman writing in English.

The readers are Jane Whittenshaw and David Westhead.

Presenter: Mark Tully
Producer: Frank Stirling

A 7digital production for BBC Radio 4.

Close Readings

London Review of Books

Two worlds collide in this Close Readings fusion episode in which Mary Wellesley talks to Mark Ford about the medieval in Thomas Hardy and the wider Victorian imagination. They discuss why Hardy liked to present himself as an Arthurian knight, his satirisation of the chivalric ideal in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes, and the way his training as an architect influenced his devotion to poetic spontaneity and experimentation.

Sign up to Close Readings.

Thomas Hardy’s Medieval Mind

with Mary Wellesley and Mark Ford

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