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Familial Discourses in «The Book of Margery Kempe»

«Blyssed be the wombe that the bar and the tetys that yaf the sowkyn»


Raphaela Rohrhofer

The Book of Margery Kempe (ca. 1438) offers an illuminating account of late medieval female spirituality, affective devotion and subversion. This study approaches Margery Kempe’s roles in her earthly, heavenly and spiritual families from an interdisciplinary perspective. It details the tension between the domestic and spiritual life of the eccentric visionary and examines the intense agony and ecstatic pleasure imposed on her by the divine. Extensive research is devoted to late medieval female mysticism and the complex question of authorship and genre of The Book of Margery Kempe. In addition to a meticulous textual analysis, contemporary socio-religious, historical, medical and legal sources yield profound insights into the emotional and spiritual climate of the late Middle Ages.
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3. The Book of Margery Kempe


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3 The Book of Margery Kempe

3.1 Questions of Author, Scribe, Genre and Style

Many of the idiosyncrasies commonly associated with Margery Kempe’s character find their extension in the elusive nature of the written record of her life. Manifold virtually unanswerable questions keep surrounding The Book of Margery Kempe. Whether one should treat The Book as an authentic historical document describing the actual life story of a medieval woman called Margery Kempe or whether one should favour a purely literary approach, interpreting The Book’s events and protagonists as fictional constructs seems to be up to the taste of each academic who addresses this visionary in depth. Follow-up questions such as to who authored The Book, to which extent the characters and actions in The Book are shaped in compliance with historical realities, and to which degree there may have been exertion of influence from an outside source to sculpture The Book after esteemed literary predecessors are important to pose, but, barring further historical discoveries about the life of Margery Kempe, must remain unanswered. It is a sad fact that while scholarship has verified that those events in The Book which can be ascertained could have taken place (the church officials Margery Kempe meets, for instance, are alive at the time The Book describes her meeting them, so are diverse other historically confirmed people) in the form presented in The Book, historical evidence about Margery Kempe’s life, while it is existent, is considerably scant;...

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