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The Book of Margery Kempe

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  3,272 ratings  ·  228 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published November 10th 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1438)
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Caroline Lambert I hate to be a pedant, but you haven't actually asked a real question. I mean, The Book of Margery Kempe does deal with issues of gender. In a time wh…moreI hate to be a pedant, but you haven't actually asked a real question. I mean, The Book of Margery Kempe does deal with issues of gender. In a time when most women had to choose between being a nun or being a wife, Kempe managed to straddle that line and take on the appearance of one while being the other. Over and over again, the book mentions how she is being judged by the men in her life: her husband, John, her confessors, various priests that she irritates or inspires, and even Christ himself. And while it was the first female autobiography in English, the Church hid it for almost 500 years because they considered it to be heresy. There is a lot to consider. Sorry if I didn't answer your question. I wasn't really sure what you were going for...(less)

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Well that was a bit strange.

The second thing I would say, is avoid this older edition with it's old 'translation'. The editor in fact suggests that the English was only slightly modernised, my general impression, as maybe you can tell from the updates, is the translator produced a weird sounding Tudorbethan style that often comes over as a pastiche. It has neither the pleasures of the original, nor the clarity of a modern translation. The passages about lice or Margery tormented by visions of na
Nov 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: medieval
My then-roommate and I had a class together in which we read this book. When a stray cat turned up at our house and insisted on moving in with us, we named her Margery because she whined so much.
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, recs
As the first autobiography in English, as well as one of the few extant medieval texts authored by an English woman writer, The Book of Margery Kempe would be of great cultural and historical import even were it not so pleasurable to read. Written in the third person, likely as a kind of collaboration between the semi-literate author and her male scribe, the Book records the trials and triumphs of Margery Kempe, an orthodox English laywoman, as she travels about the world, encountering adversity ...more
John Wiswell
Aug 06, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History readers, theology readers, classics readers, readers interested in biography
One of the oldest autobiographies in the English language, should you choose to believe the illiterate Margery Kempe truly dictated it, is bitterly funny today. Kempe recounts her marriage, failures in business, curiously kinky religious visions, and spuriously selfish pilgrimmage. It is at once a window into the biases of a bygone age, and a thinly humorous commentary on the human condition. Was she driven mad by trouble childbirth, lying to get ahead in the world, or truly touched? The Church ...more
Sep 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: assigned-reading, ugh
After having to read this for my Lit class, and reading a book by St. Theresa of Avila two years ago for a history class, I have come to the following conclusion:

Female mystics are the single most boring, long-winded people on the planet.

Margery Kempe's life had all the potential to be a well-made, expensive, but ultimately poorly received religious film from the Mel Gibson canon. She had visions, was psychic, and spent most of her adult life traveling across Europe and the Middle East while re
I would have been blessfully ignorant of this book if not the remarkable book - Sex Before Sexuality: A Premodern History - that I read earlier. Having read The Book of Margery Kempe, I ought to admit that Sex Before Sexuality summed up everything that might be of interest for you in this book in a couple of words, relieveing you from whimpering, sobbing, crying, weeping, moaning, suffering, endless narrative offered by Margery and those who wrote for her. ...more
Review will follow. I just need to write my essay first. :)
Lynden Rodriguez
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lynden by: unknown
This book is notable as being the first autobiography in the English Language. But that's where the debate begins. Margery Kempe was a remarkable woman who would have stood out in any age. As a Carmelite familiar with the mystical life, I find that Margery Kempe is authentic. Although there are many who would argue that. That is because they are unfamiliar with the contemplative and meditative life. And I must admit that Margery had her share of gifts. She had an extraordinary sense of prayer an ...more
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
margery kempe is an unmistakably physical presence, a voice that rings clear over the centuries, a body that she reinstates ownership over again and again, a soul that she lays bare to the world; there is something very lonely in the story of a woman who must exist in the liminal space between layperson and saint, aspiring to one and shunning the other but never quite belonging to either. despite her own surety that earthly scorn will be heavenly joy, that her distance from the people around her ...more
not going to lie, i did some judicious skimming towards the end. i believe in women supporting women but julian > margery, those are the facts.
Melanie Spiller
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medieval-history
What a hoot this book is! Margery Kempe was a real person, someone who, after having a bunch of children and many years of marriage, decided that she wanted to be a nun. So she traveled to Rome (from England) to get a papal annulment, and discovered that she enjoyed traveling so much that she went on Jerusalem. Her adventures are told with a certain tongue-in-cheek and also some self-righteous indignation that are both edifying and hilarious. Even hearing only her side of things, the reader is g ...more
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
Frequent repetition (mostly of "Oh how wonderful god is. Let me repeat the story of the crucifixion in gory detail one more time") dropped this down from three to two stars. I actually enjoyed this far more than I thought I would as an atheist reading a Christian mystic's account of her religious life.

What I most liked where the rare and occasional glimpses of 15th century life - travails with lice and travel plans, the occasional decrying of fashion. Margery is feisty indeed, though I mostly ch
Nov 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, uni
(TW: alcohol mention)

If you ever feel like getting so drunk you cannot see the words in front of you then read a single chapter of this book and take a shot every time Margery weeps, wails, roars, or does anything pertaining to crying. Make sure you have a stomach pump handy, because she does this every other sentence.

My favourite bit is when she gets so excited about Jesus that she falls off a donkey. Other than that it's just a lot of crying. Not the worst book I've ever read for class but it
Namera [The Literary Invertebrate]
I kind of think this is one of those books that shouldn't really be reviewed.

It's the biography of Margery Kempe, a 14th-century devotee who sees visions of Christ. It's clear she believes she really does see them; she gets so much abuse for it that I can't imagine anyone faking it.

Also, God punishes her by sending her visions of dicks.
It's cool because it's one of the earliest examples of female auto-biography, but that's it. If Margery Kempe existed today she'd be in a Louis Theroux documentary telling children they're going to hell and justifying anti-social behaviour with how she is 'holier than'st thou'. If you knew her and saw her in the street, you would walk quickly past, head down, pretending you didn't see her because you really really don't want to talk to her she's so annoying. ...more
Ali Almatrood
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, 2017
One of the rare books that I would stop reading from the very first pages if it weren't required for a class. ...more
E Owen
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was excited about this book as it is a rare surviving English medieval autobiography of a woman. Beyond her marriage and her failed businesses which fill no more than a few pages, the overwhelming majority of this autobiography records her religious experiences. Not a problem but for Penguin to list it as an “autobiography” is only partly true and gave me different expectations.

I have read and enjoyed other devotional works of this period such as Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwic
Roman Clodia
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is an extraordinary book is so many ways: Kempe was a fifteenth century woman who becomes a mystic, having religious visions, not dissimilar, in some ways, to Joan of Arc who was her contemporary. Living in what is now King's Lynn, Norfolk, she travelled on pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem, and gives us an insight into her medieval world.

One of the things about Kempe is that she was always very disruptive, no silent meditations for her: instead she cried and made much noise when in the thro
Maan Kawas
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So vivid and interesting … it is a strange and unique book, which some considered to be the first English autobiography dictated by Margery Kempe, a Christian mystic in the 15th century England. The book describes her mystical experience and life, spiritual conversion, the ordeals and trials she experienced, and the pilgrimage and travels to holy places; and it includes mystical conversations Jesus Christ and other saints as well. One of Margery’s key characteristics and patterns, was her strong ...more
Feb 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Margery Kempe was certainly an interesting woman, I have to admit. Granted, she seemed to have been either completely crazy or really a preferred person with Christ as she insists time and time again. Prone to screaming in public, wearing white when she wasn't supposed to, and apparent frequent visions, it's not too hard to see why she's popularly seen as just coo-coo. To add to this, she's just about the most self-righteous person I have ever come across; not only does she have visions almost d ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
March 2017
It was pretty decent for what I imagined the book would be, but I can't say I enjoyed it no.

May 2018
Still a big fat nooooo
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Margery Kempe (c. 1373-1440) gave us the first known autobiography of an English person, dictated to two priests because, like most laypeople of the time, she couldn’t write. She was a married woman who had suffered a breakdown after giving birth to her first child, then became very religious, going in for lots of weeping and wailing - especially in church, which didn’t always endear her to the priests who were trying to conduct Mass.

She travelled surprising distances, going on pilgrimage to Rom
Megan Peterson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I admire how groundbreaking this first autobiographical account of someone's life written in English is, and I understand seeing this through a modern perspective weakens the narrative. At the same time, it is difficult not thinking less of Margery when she is attention seeking or when she acknowledges how her behavior is off-putting and continues it. This book is something unique yes, but that doesn't stop me from critiquing. I enjoyed the critiques in the back of the book more than the recount ...more
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kyle Johnson
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-books-read
This would be a standard work of hagiography if not for Margery Kempe being so unique/absurd/ecstatic/quirky that she has actually never been canonized. Though written in the 3rd person, this is actually the 1st autobiography we have in the English language. I did not thoroughly enjoy it but it does provide a glimpse of the life of a 15th century female mystic and pilgrim.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic
if you're a man who's disrespected margery kempe just know that you owe me $50. i have your ip address and am coming to rearrange your bones. ...more
Sep 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
Weeping. Lots. and LOTS. of weeping. Oh, and being tempted by a vision of naked dancing men sent by Satan.
Nov 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find it really difficult to rate medieval texts. While they (including this one) can be quite repetitive sometimes, it does always amaze me how much of an insight they give into contemporary thought.
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
In The Book of Margery Kempe, the first chapter, "The Birth of Her First Child and Her First Vision," functions as the exposition and inciting incident of the tale. The chapter begins by setting the stage, letting readers know how about Kempe’s marriage at 20, her quick conception, and her illness while pregnant. She writes that she was plagued by devils and that she never fully confessed her sins to her priest, and while this troubled her, she was as afraid of “his sharp reproving” as of damnat ...more
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The following biography information provides basic facts and information about the life and history of Margery Kempe, a famous Medieval character:

Nationality: English

Lifespan: c1373 - c1438

Time Reference: Lived during the reign of the English kings Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV

Date of Birth: She was born Margery Brunham at King's Lynn, Norfolk (then called Bishop's Lynn) in approximately 137

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