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The Book of Margery Kempe
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The Book of Margery Kempe

3.26  ·  Rating details ·  2,775 Ratings  ·  179 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…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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Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Chelsea Rae
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.
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
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
~ elizabeth
It's cool because it's one of the earliest examples of women's 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 for liking chocolate and justifying anti-social behaviour with how she is 'holier than'st thou'. If you knew her you would walk past her, head down, pretending you didn't see her because you really really don't want to talk to her she's so annoying.
Ali Almatrood
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, reviewed
One of the rare books that I would stop reading from the very first pages if it weren't required for a class.
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
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
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an awesome broad
Nov 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: uni
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
tonia peckover
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Important as an example of a medieval woman's autobiography. Margery Kempe was a wealthy wife and mother of 14 children who dictated a record of her spiritual journey. She experiences the presence of God mostly through weeping fits which causes many people around her to despise her and question her holiness (which was potentially dangerous since heretics were often burned at the time). She spends a lot of time wishing she was not married so she could be chaste (and truly righteous, I guess), fin ...more
J. Alfred
Ol' Weeping Margery is at the least an interesting character: she makes a case that she's going to be a pretty big deal in heaven, too, so you might do well to consider getting on her good side now. Her rambling, historically-and-psychologically-interesting book is utterly strange insofar as it is her recollections; that is, that it is meant unironically as an edifying saint's life, while to a modern reader Margery seems more like someone out of Dickens or Freud.
The thought strikes me: Do unsymp
Jul 14, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There is a really interesting story tied to this book, but sadly no interesting book tied to the story. Fans of Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena and other medieval women writers on spirituality will in my opinion find this quite lacking. Yes, Margery has a very strong feeling of devotion, but this is quite questionably devotional. Granted it's impossible to tell how accurate Margery of Kempe's self-assessment is, but the way it reads to me, this is the work of an egomanical and very vindict ...more
Angela Gilden
This independent medieval woman traveled widely

Only relatively recently available in modern English, Margery Kemp’s book is considered the first English autobiography. But it is no dry recitation of daily chores, but the story of her literally international quest for closeness to God. After a terrible illness accompanied by violent delirium, Kempe makes pilgrimage to Jerusalem and many other sites believed to bring worshippers closer to God. Her independence of mind is marked by a complete and a
Jun 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Though I've never been a fan of autobiographies, I must admit to having enjoyed this book a little bit. I'll give it some respect considering the fact that it is one of the first autobiographies written in "English", though I couldn't help but be amused by Margery and her outlandish ways. I lost tack of all the things that made her weep....
Cliff Davis
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
What do I think of this book? I recognize its place in history -- the first extant autobiography by an English person. But how to judge it?

Is it simply the babblings of someone who suffered from mental illness -- who believed herself bound by God to do bizzare things that constantly put her at odds with her society? To do that puts me in the dangerous position of having to apply that label to others, from Abraham to Paul -- indeed, having to discount all religious experience as insanity.

Did she
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was the most boring stupid book ever, and I had to read it for class. It wasn't enjoyable to read, but it did have some interesting parts. Margery is always whining and crying. And she loves Jesus. So much so that she wants to kiss him, and there's a scene where she's in bed with Jesus and Mary. Super weird, but interesting. She also thinks sexuality is the worst thing with men, and attempts to stay away from her husband and from all male genital stuff. It sounds like she's married to Jesus ...more
MJ Huot
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Read this book for my final paper assignment in my Later Middle Ages history course this semester. The source itself is dense and repetitive but it is bearable when read alongside decent explanatory notes. I would recommend the Oxford Classics version over the Penguin Classics version any day. The Oxford Classics version/translation includes extensive explanatory notes, a lengthy introduction, and a helpful bibliography (the Penguin Classics version/translation also includes the same features bu ...more
Dennis Podryadchikov
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A diary of a medieval woman, who experiences unusual cries and loud weepings when hearing sermons or thinking about the passion of Christ. Illiterate, having given birth to many children, and often ostracized, Margery Kempe can very well serve as an example of a suffering soul who showed mercy and patience to those believers who did not understand that her expressions of faith were caused by the Holy Spirit. Even though this is not a light reading, more advanced readers will find this book helpf ...more
This is a truly enjoyable book -- at least for the particular sort of nerd that I am. This is a dictated autobiography of a female Christian mystic of 15th century England. This isn't up everyone's alley, but for me? What a great way to get insight into 15th century English religion, and just into everyday life of the time period -- not to mention getting to see a very particular sort of mystic at work.
Frederick Herrmann
This is the Penguin classic edition.
The oldest surviving English autobiography. In modern Evangelical terms, Margery Kempe would be called a prophetess; in medieval or Catholic parlance, a mystic.
She was the real deal and was very gifted spiritually.
Kempe lived ca. 1373-c. 1440; the book is a journey through the medieval world.
Unfortunately, she was over-effected by the somewhat puritanical Augustinian doctrines of her day. That aside, this is a great read from a godly woman.
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Short Biography profile and facts about the life of Margery Kempe
The following biography information provides basic facts and information about the life and history of Margery Kempe a famous Medieval character of the Middle Ages:

Nationality: English

Lifespan: 1373 - c1438

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

Date of Birth: She was born Marge
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