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Book of Margery Kempe

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Overview

Margery Kempe's book, a unique narrative of sin, sex and salvation, comprises a text which has continued to perplex and fascinate contemporary audiences since its discovery in the library of an English country house in 1934. Simultaneously exasperating, endearing, vulnerable and eccentric, Margery Kempe, wife, and mother of fourteen children, provides an autobiographical account of her own singular piety and the growth of what she regarded as an individual and privileged mystical relationship with Christ. This is an abridged, thematically organised translation of the text, with detailed introduction and interpretive essay, focusing particularly on the importance of motherhood, sexuality and female discourse to the inception and expression of Margery Kempe's mystical experiences, and illuminating contemporary debate regarding the agency of holy women during the later middle ages.

The earliest surviving autobiographical writing in English, this narrative tells of a woman's pilgramages through Europe and the Holy Land.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This classic, one of the first English autobiographies, chronicles the spiritual life of a very unusual, and illiterate, medieval woman. Not an autobiography in the modern sense, the text--dictated between 1432 and 1436--provides sparse personal detail but does give some insight into the beliefs of this holy woman. Kempe (c. 1373-c. 1440) ran a brewery, married, and mothered 14 children before taking a vow of chastity. In her subsequent pilgrimages she learned much through pious conversations with strangers and gained important insights from her communion with God about how her manner of dress and uncontrolled tears at communion would save her from some "secret" sin. Numerous translations of these writings exist, including the Middle English Memoirs of a Medieval Woman (1983), but this text uses modern English and organizes the chapters chronologically, making for a better story. Recommended for popular religious collections.--Leo Kriz, West Des Moines Lib., IA
Fran Shaw
...[A]n oral history of the religious life of an English woman...an account of the awakening of a spiritual love "fixed upon God"....[a book for] the student of history, especially church history, medieval Catholicism, and 14th-century England.
— Parabola
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393976397
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/2000
  • Series: Norton Critical Editions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 351,174
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Bale studies at the universities of Oxford and York and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published widely on various medieval topics, including Christian-Jewish relations, the poetry of Chaucer and Lydgate, religion in East Anglia, and fifteenth-century literature and pilgrimage. He is the editor of Mandeville's Book of Marvels and Travels from Oxford World's Classics, and in 2011 was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
Manuscript History and Reception 5
Questions of Authorship and Authority 9
The Book in its Socio-Religious Context 11
Margery and the Lollard Threat 16
Late-Medieval Pilgrimage and Religious Controversy 18
Female Mysticism and the Continental Tradition 21
Note on the Translations 25
The Book of Margery Kempe: I. Narratives of Motherhood 31
The Book of Margery Kempe: II. Discources of Desire 54
The Book of Margery Kempe: III. Voice and Authority 76
Interpretive essay: 'wonderfully turnyng & wrestyng hir body': Agonies, Ecstasies, and Gendered Performances in The Book of Margery Kempe 105
App Printed Extracts from The Book of Margery Kempe (the print of Wynkyn de Worde (1501)) 127
Select Bibliography 133
Index 146
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2009

    Very Good, but Still Lacking...

    Oddly enough, Norton chose to publish The Book of Margery Kempe in a Modern English translation, while they issued its rough contemporary, The Showings of Julian of Norwich (Norton's title) in the original Middle English. I honestly haven't the faintest idea why this was done, as the work by Kempe, dictated though it was, is still the first autobiography in the English language. I would think that it would be the better choice to present Kempe's work in the original Middle English. It is noted that the translator tried to stay as close to Kempe's original text while adapting the work into Modern English. This is all nice, and it does make the work more accessible for the casual student, but for those who a specializing in works of the medieval era, it simply means that he or she must look elsewhere for a basic source text. As for the critical articles which are the hallmark of the Norton Critical Edition series, this volume is no exception. The excerpts and complete articles serve to introduce the student to the current thought and theory surrounding this text and to supply him or her with at least a few sources handily. I cannot recommend this edition without reservation, simply due to the fact that the language has been modernized. Overlooking that caveat, the other features of this NCE make it a valuable tool for those studying medieval Christian mysticism, feminism, or the everyday life of the English peasant during the Middle Ages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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