Dr Lydia Zeldenrust
- Lecturer in Middle English Literature (English Language & Linguistics)
I am a specialist in late medieval literature whose research often extends into the early modern period. My research typically takes a comparative, transcultural approach, working across multiple language, and I integrate literary study with historical and book-historical approaches. I am particularly interested in the movement and transmission of texts across regional and linguistic borders, and in the place of English literary activity and book production in relation to continental Europe. I work with both manuscripts and early printed texts.
My first monograph The Mélusine Romance in Medieval Europe: Translation, Circulation, and Material Contexts was published with D. S. Brewer in 2020 (and shortlisted for the University English Book Prize 2021). The study is the first to consider how the romance of Mélusine – about a beautiful fairy woman who is cursed to become a half-serpent once a week – transformed from a local legend to an international bestseller, analysing versions in French, German, Castilian, Dutch, and English. The book addresses timely questions on how to study medieval literature from a European perspective, moving beyond national canons, reading Mélusine’s bodily mutability as a metaphor for how the romance itself moves and transforms across borders. It analyses key changes to the romance’s content, form, and material presentation – including its images – and traces how the people who produced and owned/read this romance shaped its international transmission and spread.
My most recent project is ‘Continental Connections: European Bestselling Romances in England (c. 1400-1600)’ (funded by the Leverhulme Trust). It examines a group of European bestselling romances that arrive in England in the late medieval period and fuel new translation, copying, and printing activities. These romances have a complex international genealogy and have received little scholarly attention, as they do not fit in neatly with national canons or the usual focus on Anglo-French exchanges. The project breaks important ground by placing the English versions within a pan-European framework, to trace the international networks surrounding their production and readership, and to uncover to what extent these texts actively participate in European traditions and which features might set the English versions apart. The project sheds light on a period when English was not a world language but a marginal language, and English literary culture was largely catching up with continental fashions.
I have also published on topics such as inter-vernacular translation, and the international circulation and copying of woodcuts in the early period of printing.
2019–22 Principal Investigator, Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, project ‘Continental Connections: European Bestselling Romances in England (c.1400-1600)’, £93,000.
Recent public activities:
Recorded lines in Middle English for a sound and visual projection piece in the York Minster
Contributed to BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking episode on Melusine, Jan. 2022
Recorded lines in Middle English for the 'Voices of Clifford’s Tower' sound project with artist Karen Monid, for English Heritage (reading out an Arthurian romance)
'Medieval Romances, Trash Fiction, and Rebel Women’. Talk for York Festival of Ideas, sponsored by BBC History Magazine
'Knights, dragons, and beasts: the strange world of medieval romance’, History Extra podcast
Writing pieces for catalogue accompanying the exhibition Mélusine, secrets d'une fée at the Historial de la Vendée, France
Organised event on Medieval Magic at Barley Hall, and event on Medieval Magical Creatures for the York Festival of Ideas