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Re-Reading Margery Kempe in the 21 st Century

Valentina Castagna

This work provides an analysis of The Book of Margery Kempe and the figure of Margery Kempe herself, with a specific focus on contemporary critical re-readings as well as creative re-writings. The author re-reads the text making reference to recent theoretical conceptualizations and taking into consideration the figure of Margery Kempe as mystic, preacher and pilgrim. This book looks into the multiple layers of interpretation that this autobiography from the 15 th century allows today, highlighting the importance of The Book of Margery Kempe as the first English autobiography, unique surviving example of travel text by a female pilgrim, and socio-historical document. At the same time, the author questions the complex identity conflicts which emerge in Margery Kempe’s challenge of traditional social norms. She takes her analysis one step further by reading the text in the light of new critical approaches and by taking into exam the 1985 radio play The True Tale of Margery Kempe by contemporary Anglo-German novelist Eva Figes.


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New Perspectives on The Book of Margery Kempe1 This book takes into consideration more radical interpretations and rewritings of The Book of Margery Kempe from various contem- porary critical perspectives and from a creative point of view. This work offers a particular focus on gender and sexuality in the repre- sentation of the public roles assumed by Margery Kempe as a mystic, (outlaw) preacher and pilgrim. Over the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, Margery Kempe’s text and character have received increasing critical atten- tion, and more than other contemporary mystics and their texts, from scholars interested not only in the field of Medieval Studies but also the fields of Women Studies, Gender Studies and more recently Queer Studies. At the same time, Margery and her Book have become a powerful source of inspiration for unconventional authors interested in the interconnections of spirituality and sexu- ality and in her queerness. We shall be taking into examination the way in which the rep- resentation of Margery in her public roles is analyzed more and more frequently in terms of gender and by making reference to the concepts of performance and queerness. We shall also be drawing attention to some of the issues emerging from the widely-accepted definition of the book as the first autobiography in English, as re- 1 The first version of this chapter was presented as a paper at the 24th AIA Conference “Challenges for the 21st Century: Dilemmas, Ambiguities, Di-...

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