The Book of Margery Kempe

The Book of Margery Kempe

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by Margery Kempe
     
 

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Though a familiar name, little was known about the English mystic Margery Kempe (c. 1373-c. 1440) for hundreds of years except that she had an association with the great Julian of Norwich. This all changed in 1934 with the discovery of The Book of Margery Kempe in a library where it had lain hidden for four hundred years. Finding Margery's own story was

Overview

Though a familiar name, little was known about the English mystic Margery Kempe (c. 1373-c. 1440) for hundreds of years except that she had an association with the great Julian of Norwich. This all changed in 1934 with the discovery of The Book of Margery Kempe in a library where it had lain hidden for four hundred years. Finding Margery's own story was important not just because of the light it shed on her life, but it also turned out to be the first known autobiography in the English language. Even more intriguing to the experts of the day, this unique document was written by a woman.

But if anyone had expected to find her anything like her cloistered contemporary, Julian, they were in for something of a surprise. Far from being a typical holy woman, Margery Kempe was married and mother of fourteen children. Moreover, she had been a woman of substance, even running a large brewery for a time. After turning to religion, she traveled thousands of miles around the known world on pilgrimages to distant lands.

Beyond the circumstances of her life, what's most compelling about the text is the inner Margery that emerges. Her account of spiritual awakening, far from being a blissful episode is instead full of conflict and recrimination. What good was this new way of life if it caused her such trouble? Was this really the only way to lead a holy life? Margery remained unsure of the answers. But her patience in her struggle is a wonder to behold, and an example for us today.

Editorial Reviews

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
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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140432510
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/1986
Series:
Penguin Classics Series
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
323,887
Product dimensions:
5.05(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Barry Windeatt is a professor of English at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He translated The Book of Margery Kempe for Penguin Classics.

Barry Windeatt is a professor of English at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He translated The Book of Margery Kempe for Penguin Classics.

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The Book of Margery Kempe 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
A_Sloan More than 1 year ago
Medieval England's Most Controversial Woman Speaks Few female figures were as controversial in the early 1400s as Margery Kempe. Barry Windeatt's translation of "The Book of Margery Kempe" explores the life of this woman who was more than a wife and mother; she was also a businesswoman and religious visionary who dictated the earliest English autobiography known to modern readers. In vivid detail, Windeatt describes Kempe's successes and failures. She birthed 14 children before feeling a religious calling (!!) and her brewery business failed. She was "continually hindered by her enemy, the devil, but continued to [perform] all her responsibilities wisely and soberly." Her leadership and vision makes her a unique woman living in medieval times that were not necessarily safe for her. Few novels depict courage in woman as deep as Kemp's. Her pilgraimage to the Holy Land, dedication to chastity and the heresy trial she endured in England were quite harrowing. Few books are comparable to "The Book of Margery Kempe"; however, Samuel Fanous' book Christina of Markyate is similar. Readers who are more interested in the heresy trial will also enjoy Robert Bartlett's Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal. No other book delves into Margery Kempe's life as her autobiography does. It emcompasses everything from religion to daily life in modern English, and it does not stray away from her faults. This translation has also been organized in a neat manner, encourging easier reading. This accessible book will fit in great alongside any historical or religious collection.
SS70 More than 1 year ago
Penguin's version of The Book of Margery Kempe stands as a decent introduction to the genre of medieval English Christian mysticism, even if some liberties have been taken. The syntax and sentence structure of the manuscript have been slightly modernized, obviously in an attempt to make the work more accessible to readers unfamiliar with Middle English. Barry Windeatt's introduction serves well as a looking glass through which Margery Kempe herself is placed in her social and religious milieu. For the casual reader, or for the student who is using this edition as a secondary source, this is a valuable tool for peering into the religious mind of the medieval era.