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Helen Swift's research interests straddle the late medieval and early modern periods, looking at the poetics of vernacular literature between 1330 and 1550. Her work is interdisciplinary, in that it often involves visual studies of text-image relationships, as well as studying the history of the book in this period of transition between manuscript and print cultures. She also integrates critical theory into her work as a tool for opening up new perspectives on earlier literature to modern readers. Her first book examined the literary and rhetorical structures of literary defences of women written by men in the period after Christine de Pizan. Her second book looked at questions of identity construction and narrative voice in late medieval France through the lens of literary epitaphs, in response to the question: who am I when I am dead? It featured as a TORCH 'Book at Lunchtime' in October 2017, and was highly commended as runner-up for the Society for French Studies R. Gapper Prize 2017. She is now working on a dialogue between how guide figures are represented in late-medieval didactic narratives and questions of guidance in the twenty-first-century academy; this was the topic of her plenary lecture at the 2023 Society for French Studies Conference.

She enjoys working in several collaborations. She has, for instance, participated in the MARGOT project, based at the University of Waterloo, Canada, in the SIEFAR project 'Discours sur l'égalité des femmes et des hommes', and in a British Academy-sponsored group on 'Text/Image Relations in Late Medieval French Culture'. With Prof Sophie Marnette, she co-ran a research group on 'Voices in Medieval French Narrative', funded by a British Academy Small Grant, and is now co-investigator on a John Fell Fund-supported project, 'Mapping Literary Ecosystems: (re)positioning and contextualising the Chastelaine de Vergi'.

Helen also collaborated with Dr Jessica Goodman on the topic of death, including a workshop hosted by TORCH under their headline 'Humanities and Identities' series: 'Whither Death?' Hear Jess and Helen's podcast about the event. She spoke at the 2019 Oxford Lieder Festival on 'Who Am I When I Am Dead?'

Contributing to the rich interdisciplinarity of Humanities research and teaching, she has convened the MSt in Women's Studies and the MSt in Medieval Studies, was a founding member of the Oxford Medieval Studies TORCH Programme and served on the committee of the Women in the Humanities Programme (now Intersectional Humanities).


French language and medieval literature; Women's Writing; Literature and the Visual Arts; critical theory; codicology.

Graduate Teaching

Helen is happy to supervise topics on later medieval literature, as well as interdisciplinary dissertations (e.g. combining French and Art History, French and Philosophy) undertaken as part of the MSt in Medieval Studies. She has supervised doctorates on relations between poetry and philosophy in the Roman de la rose; on printed editions of the Rose; on reception in England of the idea of Jean de Meun, on text-image relations in Christine de Pizan's didactic works, and on urban Marian lyric in late-medieval France and Germany. She is currently supervising projects on fifteenth-century travel narratives, early-sixteenth-century anthologies of rhétoriqueur poetry, and the late-medieval carol.


Selected publications include:

The Waxing of the Middle Ages: Revisiting Late-Medieval France, ed. by Charles-Louis Morand-Métivier and Tracy Adams (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2023), pp. 94-109

'A Guide to Research: "je vous tiens pour ma guide"', in Manuscripts, Music, Machaut: Essays in Honor of Lawrence Earp, ed. by Jared C. Hartt, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel, and Benjamin L. Albritton (Turnhout: Brepols, 2022), pp. 45-63

'Telling Tales: What Is a Dit?', in Poetry, Art and Music in Guillaume de Machaut's Earliest Manuscript (BnF fr. 1586), ed. by Lawrence Earp and Jared C. Hartt with Domenic Leo (Brepols/Epitome musicale, 2021), pp. 263-92

‘Late-Medieval Precursors to the Novel: “aucune chose de nouvel”’, in The Cambridge History of the Novel in French, ed. Adam Watt (Cambridge: CUP, 2021), pp. 19-37

‘Fictional Will’, in The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature, ed. W. Michelle Wang, Daniel K. Jernigan, and Neil Murphy (London/New York: Routledge, 2020), pp. 256-64

with Anne Stone, ‘Courtly Subjectivities’ in The Edinburgh Companion to Literature and Music, ed. Delia da Sousa Correa (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 111-24

'"La devise et forme singuliere de la fin du povre pelerin": Ritual Configuration and Rhetorical Invention in Philippe de Mézières' Testament (1392)', in Philippe de Mézières, rhétorique et poétique, ed. Joel Blanchard, with Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Antoine Calvet (Geneva: Droz, 2019), pp. 207-225

'Posthumous Reputation Unravelled in Sixteenth-Century Epitaph Fictions', in Anticipated Afterlives: Envisaging Posterity in Early Modern France, ed. Jessica Goodman and Joseph Harris, Early Modern French Studies 40.1 (2018), 11-24

Representing the Dead: Epitaph Fictions in Late Medieval France (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2016)

'Picturing Narrative Voice: Communication and Displacement', Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age: Re-Examining Guillaume de Machaut's Material Legacy, Digital Philology 5.1 (2016), 28-46

'Limits of Representation in Late Fifteenth-Century Burgundy: What the Eye Doesn't Hear and the Ear Doesn't See', in Text/Image Relations in Late Medieval French and Burgundian Culture (14th c. - 16th c.), ed. Rosalind Brown-Grant and Rebecca Dixon (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015)

'The Merits of Not Knowing: The Paradox of espoir certain in Late-Medieval French Narrative Poetry', in Uncertain Knowledge in the Middle Ages, eds. Dallas Denery, Kantik Ghosh, Nicolette Zeeman (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014)

'Competing Codes of Authority in Mid-Fifteenth Century Burgundy: Martin Le Franc and the Book that Answers Back', in Authority in European Book Culture, ed. Pollie Bromilow (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 43-66

'The Poetic "I"', in A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Master, ed. Deborah McGrady and Jennifer Bain (Leiden: Brill, 2012)

Les voix narratives du récit médiéval, ed. Sophie Marnette and Helen Swift, Cahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistiques 22 (2011)

'Splitting Heirs: Wrestling with the Rose in the querelle des femmes', in Essays in Later Medieval French Literature: The Legacy of Janes H. M. Taylor, ed. Rebecca Dixon (Manchester: MUP, 2010), 3-19

'Haunting Text and Image: Having it Out with Misogynistic Authorities in the Late Medieval querelle des femmes ', in Haunting Presences: Ghosts in French Literature and Culture , ed. Kate Griffiths and David Evans (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009), 29-42

'Tamainte consolation / me fist lymagination: A Poetics of Mourning and Imagination in Late Medieval dits', in The Erotics of Consolation: Desire and Distance in the Late Middle Ages, ed. Catherine E. Léglu and Stephen J. Milner (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 141-164

Gender, Writing, and Performance: Men Defending Women in Late Medieval France (1440-1538), Oxford Modern Languages Monographs (Oxford: OUP, 2008)