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The Book of Margery Kempe (1438)

af Margery Kempe

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The story of the eventful and controversial life of Margery Kempe - wife, mother, businesswoman, pilgrim and visionary - is the earliest surviving autobiography in English. Here Kempe (c.1373-c.1440) recounts in vivid, unembarrassed detail the madness that followed the birth of the first of her fourteen children, the failure of her brewery business, her dramatic call to the spiritual life, her visions and uncontrollable tears, the struggle to convert her husband to a vow of chastity and her pilgrimages to Europe and the Holy Land. Margery Kempe could not read or write, and dictated her remarkable story late in life. It remains an extraordinary record of human faith and a portrait of a medieval woman of unforgettable character and courage.… (mere)
Nyligt tilføjet afHien_Ngvyen, gabriel, jordanr2, privat bibliotek, MLRALibrary, jencharlap, LindaAnn59, Mainlyme
Efterladte bibliotekerGillian Rose, Arthur Ransome, C. S. Lewis
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Is a medieval text attributed to Margery Kempe, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim who lived at the turn of the fifteenth century. It details Kempe's life, her travels, her alleged experiences of divine revelation (including her visions of interacting with Jesus as well as other biblical figures), and her presence at key biblical events such as the Nativity and the Crucifixion.

Kempe's book is written in the third person, employing the phrase "this creature" to refer to Kempe in order to display humility before God. Kempe claimed to be illiterate and her book was dictated to two scribes who set it down. Modern editions of Kempe's book are based on a manuscript copied by a scribe named Salthows sometime in the fifteenth century (the original manuscript has been lost). Recent research by Anthony Bale has suggested that Salthows was one Richard Salthouse, a monk at Norwich’s cathedral priory. The Salthows manuscript, then owned by Colonel W. Butler-Bowdon, was found in a country-house in Derbyshire in the early 1930s, and was identified as Margery Kempe’s book by Hope Emily Allen, who was instrumental in the publication of the second modern edition of the text. The manuscript was purchased by the British Library from Captain Maurice E. Butler Bowdon (1910-1984) at an auction held by Sotheby's in London on 24 June 1980. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Feb 24, 2021 |
I felt obliged to try reading this first autobiographical work in the English language, and fortunately it was not as bad as I'd feared. Margery reveals almost nothing about her times (14th century England) but there's entertainment to be had in others' reactions to her incessant weeping, which I can well understand, and yet - since I didn't have to listen to her? - I found her sympathetic. She takes too many daring chances, subjects herself to too much humiliation for me to suspect her of being insincere in her faith.

If her story struck me as funny in places (especially when I forgot how roughshod a society she lived in that could easily make good on its death threats), it isn't out of disrespect for her devotion. I'm made skeptical by the voice of God that sounds almost nothing like him in the Bible, something she doesn't try to do in the brief second part written years later. Her insisting that she bore every trial like a meek saint is a stark contrast with the book itself, which amounts to a written defense and is sometimes even threatening to her persecutors.

Perhaps Margery suffered under a mental illness and this rationalized it for her, maybe it was at least partly an act, or perhaps she really was more blessed than most. It's an intriguing artifact, whichever your view. ( )
1 stem Cecrow | Oct 27, 2020 |
From the medieval history reading program. This is called “the first English autobiography”, which is somewhat stretching the term. Margery Kempe was a 14th century middle class Englishwoman from Lynn who had an extreme bout of postpartum depression after her first child and suddenly began having fits of uncontrollable sobbing every time she went to church, and then every time she had religious thoughts – which was often. She had conversations with Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, St. Bridget, St. Katherine, St. John the Evangelist, and pretty much the entire calendar of saints. This went on her entire life, from around 1390 or so to sometime in the 1400s (she’s known to have been born in 1373 and lived at least until she was 65).


She must have been insufferable. Her book relates the trials and tribulations she underwent because her contemporaries didn’t like her crying. She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Rome, Compostella, and Aachen – crying the whole way. Groups of pilgrims would pick her up out of sympathy, tolerate her for a while, and then abandon her in the middle of nowhere after they couldn’t take the sobbing any more. (She was always reassured by whatever saint she was in touch with at the time that her companions were merely hypocritically abashed by her holiness). She’s certainly annoying to the reader, as she makes practically no mention of politics, or description of her travels, or even the names of her family (she took a vow of chastity, but had 14 children; her husband was importunate).


An interesting question to me is how she survived. From what little she reveals, she was middle class (itself sort of a rarity in medieval England); she always managed to find enough money to go on pilgrimages (I don’t know how much it would cost to get from England to Jerusalem in the 14th century, but I imagine it wasn’t within the reach of the lower class). In many cases she depended on the charity of others, who must have been happy to feed her just because she couldn’t cry and eat at the same time. Another interesting observation is no one ever suggested she was mad – although madness was certainly known at the time. Instead she was repeatedly accused of being a heretic – a Lollard. (For those of you who have mislaid your copy of Peterson’s Guide to Medieval Heresy, Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe, who held that humans could understand God by reading the Bible, and didn’t need the intervention of priests. Wycliffe produced the first English translation of the Bible). Kempe was questioned several times by various authorities, including the Archbishop of Canterbury; her views were always pronounced orthodox, although it was often suggested that she go home and act like a normal woman (i.e., weaving or spinning or cooking) rather than crying all the time. She certainly makes no favorable reference to Lollardry in her book, although her direct conversations with Jesus and the saints may have been taken as bypassing priestly intervention.


Very frustrating, much as Margery must have been. ( )
3 stem setnahkt | Dec 21, 2017 |
I read this as part of my degree, so from an academic point of view it was very fascinating and provides a woman's account of the late middle ages and blah blah blah. It's too bad that old Margery was completely off her head most of the time. I am not going to base my rating on academic merit, but rather how pleasurable it was to read. This woman rambles on and on and on. It felt like it was about ten times the length it was, and it is probably the most torturous thing I have ever suffered to read. It is a completely self indulgent and self centred account in which she reiterates the same tired points for 200 odd pages. At a certain point it became a test of endurance, around about the 500th time she relates that God made her weep heavily and people thought she was a heretic for it (this happens every five pages). Do yourself a favour, unless you have to, please don't read this; you will not leave the experience feeling satisfied, and as far as Christian mystics go, I assure you that there are far more interesting accounts to be read than this. ( )
  hickey92 | Jan 24, 2016 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Margery Kempeprimær forfatteralle udgaverberegnet
Bale, Anthony PaulOversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Butler-Bowdon, W.medforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Skinner, JohnOversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Staley, LynnRedaktørmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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Here begins a short study which offers sinful wretches great reassurance, consolation and comfort, and an understanding of the sublime and inexpressible mercy of our sovereign saviour Christ Jesus.
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A little later, I thought I saw our Lady walking towards her home ... Once our Lady was home and resting on her bed it occurred to me to make her a nice hot drink, but when I took it to her she told me to throw it away.
This tumult of inner experience came directly from God. Sometimes it came in the form of visions and sensory hallucinations and sometimes as intimations directly received into her soul.... Her visions ... are clothed in words so intense and fine as to represent language almost transfigured.... Margery was grappling to express in words an experience so sublime as to go beyond any human language.
I frequently heard a bird singing sweetly in my ear, along with other sounds and melodies that went beyond my powers of description.
No one should be surprised if the place-names aren't written correctly. I was more concerned with meditating than studying place-names. As for my scribe, please excuse him, too, as he'd never seen them.
Once I was with the monks at the church in Canterbury, and they bitterly despised and condemned me because I was weeping so much. I wept for nearly the whole day, morning and afternoon alike, both for the monks and priests and for those in the secular life. I wept so much that my husband went away, as if he didn't know me.
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The story of the eventful and controversial life of Margery Kempe - wife, mother, businesswoman, pilgrim and visionary - is the earliest surviving autobiography in English. Here Kempe (c.1373-c.1440) recounts in vivid, unembarrassed detail the madness that followed the birth of the first of her fourteen children, the failure of her brewery business, her dramatic call to the spiritual life, her visions and uncontrollable tears, the struggle to convert her husband to a vow of chastity and her pilgrimages to Europe and the Holy Land. Margery Kempe could not read or write, and dictated her remarkable story late in life. It remains an extraordinary record of human faith and a portrait of a medieval woman of unforgettable character and courage.

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