"Alas that I ever did sin! It is so merry in Heaven!"
The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1436-8) is the extraordinary account of a medieval wife, mother, and mystic. Known as the earliest autobiography written in the English language, Kempe's Book describes the dramatic transformation of its heroine from failed businesswoman and lustful young wife, to devout and chaste pilgrim. She vividly describes her prayers and visions, as well as the temptations in daily life to which she succumbed before dedicating herself to her spiritual calling. She travelled to the most holy sites of the medieval world, including Rome and Jerusalem.
In her life and her boisterous devotion, Kempe antagonized many of those around her; yet she also garnered friends and supporters who helped to record her experiences. Her Book opens a window to the medieval world, and provides a fascinating portrait of one woman's life, aspirations, and prayers. This new translation preserves the forceful narrative voice of Kempe's Book and includes a wide-ranging introduction and useful notes.
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About 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well now that was interesting
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.
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.