Margery Kempe (ca. 1373–after 1439) was Capgrave's older contemporary and a fellow
resident of King's Lynn. Almost everything we know about her comes from her Book, which purports to be the account of her life and visions
that she dictated to two scribes during the 1430s. The Book of Margery Kempe recounts the religious awakening of "this creature" (as she is
referred to throughout), the wife of a respectable burgher, the daughter of one of Lynn's leading citizens, and the mother of fourteen children. It tells of her troubled marriage; her dealings with clergy, civic
leaders, and ordinary townspeople; her travels within England; and her trips to continental Europe and the Holy Land.
Visions abound, as "this creature" converses with Jesus and the saints, experiences a mystical marriage with the Godhead, assists at the Nativity, and witnesses the Passion.
Though the Book reports that her religious eccentricities—especially the fits of "roaring" that overcame her when she contemplated Christ's
life and passion—alienated
her from those around her, the Account Rolls of Lynn's Trinity Guild indicate that a "Margery Kempe" was a member of that prestigious
association in 1438.
An amalgam of genres—autobiography,
revelation, saint's life, social satire, pilgrimage narrative, and moral exemplum—The Book of Margery Kempe has intrigued and
perplexed critics since
its discovery in a private library during the 1930s (Wynkyn de Worde had printed extracts in 1501). Was Margery Kempe a neurotic
suffering from post-partum depression?
An exemplar of at least certain facets of bourgeois piety? A proto-feminist? A brilliant
female author on a par with Chaucer and Langland? The "pseudonym" for a
brilliant male author whose fictional Margery rivals Chaucer's Alison of
Kempe presents herself as being well acquainted with the local clergy, and she
mentions attending a sermon at the Austin friary in Lynn. It seems likely that Capgrave knew her—or that he at least knew of
her. She appears to have been just the type of reader Capgrave
had in mind when he directed his Katherine
to men, maidens, and wives: an inquisitive layperson who desires both an intellectually-grounded faith and a deeply personal
relationship with Jesus and the saints. In his Life of Saint Augustine and his Solace of Pilgrims, Capgrave takes a particular
interest in the devotional lives of wives and mothers, challenging, as Kempe does, the conventional association of holiness with virginity.
Mapping Margery Kempe offers a wealth of information
not only about Kempe herself but about East Anglian religious, social, and economic life that is eminently relevant to the study of Capgrave. See
this site's Capgrave page for a more detailed discussion of
the correspondences between The Book of Margery Kempe and Capgrave's Katherine.
- Meech, Sanford Brown, and Emily Hope Allen, eds. The Book of Margery Kempe. EETS.OS 21. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940. [Copious documentation and an
edition of the early printed extracts from the Book.]
- Staley, Lynn, ed. The Book of Margery Kempe. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996.
- Staley, Lynn, ed. and trans. The Book of Margery Kempe. New York: Norton, 2001. [This extremely useful
Norton Critical Edition includes contextualizing documents and extracts from major works of criticism.]
- Windeatt, Barry, trans. The Book of Margery Kempe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1985.
Scholarship on The Book of Margery Kempe is vast, and what follows is an admittedly idiosyncratic sampling of it. Books and essay
anthologies devoted to Kempe are listed, followed by a selection of recent essays on Kempe, older essays that were influential in the development
of Kempe scholarship, personal favorites, and essays that raise issues that are pertinent to students of Capgrave.
Monographs and Essay Collections
- Arnold, John H., and Katherine J. Lewis, eds. A Companion to the Book of Margery Kempe. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2004. [Essays
by John Arnold, P. H. Cullum, Isabel Davis, Allyson Foster, Jacqueline Jenkins, Katherine Lewis, Kate Parker, Kim Phillips, Sarah Salih, Claire Sponsler,
Diane Watt, and Barry Windeatt deal with
gender, genre, spirituality, readers, religious politics, and socio-religious contexts. Especially pertinent to students of Capgrave is Parker's
"Lynn and the Making of a Mystic," 55–73.]
- Atkinson, Clarissa W. Mystic and Pilgrim: The "Book" and the World of Margery Kempe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.
- Goodman, Anthony. Margery Kempe and Her World. London: Pearson, 2002. [Good for those who wish to understand Capgrave's world, too.]
- Lochrie, Karma. Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
- McEntire, Sandra J., ed. Margery Kempe: A Book of Essays. [Essays treat "The Woman," "Her Work," and "Her World." Especially
relevant to Capgrave is Deborah S. Ellis's "Margery Kempe and King's Lynn," 139–63.]
- Staley, Lynn. Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994. [Staley argues that Kempe is a major author,
comparable to Chaucer and Langland, who should not be confused with Margery, her character.]
Articles and Book Chapters
- Aers, David. "The Making of Margery Kempe: Individual and Community." In his Community, Gender, and Individual Identity. London: Routledge, 1988. 73–116.
- Ashley, Kathleen. “Historicizing Margery: The Book of Margery Kempe as a Social Text.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies
28 (1998): 371–88.
- Beckwith, Sarah. "A Very Medieval Mysticism: The Medieval Mysticism of Margery Kempe." In Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology,
and History. Ed. David Aers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. 34–57.
- Feinberg, Nona. "Thematics of Value in The Book of Margery Kempe." Modern Philology 7 (1989): 132–41.
- Gibson, Gail. The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1989. [See especially Chapter 3, "St. Margery: The Book of Margery Kempe," 47–65.]
- Goodman, Anthony. "The Piety of John Brunham's Daughter of Lynn." Medieval Women: Essays Dedicated and Presented to Professor Rosalind M. T. Hill.
Ed. Derek Baker. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978. 347–58. [To my knowledge, the first to take note of the affinities between Capgrave and Kempe.]
- Jones, Sarah Reese. "A 'peler of Holy Cherch': Margery Kempe and the Bishops." In Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts in Medieval Britain:
Essays for Felicity Riddy. Eds. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne et al. Turnhout: Brepols, 2000. 377–92. [Proposes a male-authored Book of Margery Kempe
written for the clergy as part of a clerical reform effort.]
- Partner, Nancy F. "Reading the Book of Margery Kempe." Exemplaria 3 (1991): 29–66.
- Salih, Sarah. Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval England. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2001. [See especially Chapter 5, "Like A
Virgin: The Book of Margery Kempe," 166–241.]
- Sanok, Catherine. Her Life Historical: Exemplarity and Female Saints' Lives in Late Medieval England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 2007. [See especially Chapter 5, "Hagiography and Historical Comparison in the Book of Margery Kempe," 116–44.]
- Shklar [Nisse], Ruth. "Cobham's Daughter: The Book of Margery Kempe and the Power of Heterodox Thinking." Modern Language Quarterly
56 (1995): 277–304.
- Stanbury, Sarah. The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. [See
especially "Arts of Self-Patronage in The Book of Margery Kempe, 191–218.]