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The Book of Margery Kempe (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 8 Feb 2000


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1 edition (8 Feb. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140432515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140432510
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

This is the first edition for sixty years of the earliest surviving autobiography in English, the unique account (dated 1436-8) of the extraordinary life, travels and revelations of Margery Kempe, a Norfolk housewife and mother, pilgrim, prophet and visionary. For the first time the original text is presented in an accessible form for modern readers, with full on-page glossing and a glossary of common words. The unrivalled on-page annotation provides the first commentary of its kind on the Book, bringing together the insights of scholarship on Kempe since the discovery of the manuscript in 1934, and setting the life of a remarkable Englishwoman in the social, political and spiritual context of her times.  An introduction provides up-to-date information and contexts for interpretation of a text central to courses on women’s studies, women’s history, and medieval literature. There is also a chronology of Kempe’s life, a helpful summary analysis of the chapters, and a full bibliography, in this new edition of a work now accepted as among the most compelling and significant English texts of the Middle Ages. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Margery Kempe, born c.1373, was of a well-to-do middle-class family from King's Lynn in Norfolk. Married at twenty, she had a vision of Christ in her madness following her first childbirth, and after early failures as a businesswoman, felt herself called to the spiritual life. At about the age of fourty, after she had born fourteen children, she persuaded her husband to a vow of chastity and began a pilgrimage across England, Europe and the Holy Land. She was a controversial figure and was often nearly burnt at the stake as a heretic. Towards the end of her life she dictated an account of her travels and visions, which was discovered in 1934. It is the earliest example of an autobiography in English.

B. A. Windeatt is Fellow and Director of Studies in English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Reader in Medieval Literature in the University of Cambridge.


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The Book of Margery Kempe, the earliest surviving autobiographical writing in English, was lost for centuries until, in 1934, a fifteenth-century manuscript came to light, which had long been in the possession of an old Catholic family, the Butler-Bowdons. Read the first page
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kay Cliff on 28 April 2009
Format: Paperback
This is the first autobiography in English. It was written in 1436, lost for centuries, rediscovered 1934, and is here translated for the first time from Middle English into fully comprehensible modern language. In it Margery Kempe describes her `madness, financial ruin, religious ecstasies, marital problems and dangerous treks to distant shrines' over a period of 40 years. Strong stuff.
Margery Kempe was married, and had 14 children. She lived in Norfolk in the 14th century. After becoming a visionary and mystic she went on pilgrimages, preached, and was tried. Her `special talent', for which she was both revered and castigated, was the way in which she responded to her visions -- visions such as these:

In chapter 36, God deifies and marries Margery, inviting her to kiss him, embrace him and take him to bed' - a graphically described scene. In chapter 81, she has a vision of the crucifixion and subsequent events: `A little later, I thought I saw our Lady walking towards her home ... Once our Lady was home and resting on her bed it occurred to me to make her a nice hot drink, but when I took it to her she told me to throw it away'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sally T on 2 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Margery Kempe lived in Norfoldk and many places she mentions in her book bring back fond memories. For instance, the church of St Margaret, Kings Lynne, Norwich itself etc. I did not know about her but I knew about Julian of Norwich, it is strange but I always thought of Norfolk as the most religious place in England and I lived there for a number of years. Margery Kempe was an unusual woman for the age in which she lived. She travelled to the Holy Land, Compostela and round about England. She was very independent and was allowed to do what she pleased by her husband, even refusing him his conjugal rights. In short, when you read the book, all your conceptions about medieval women are turned upside down. And this is only the beginning. She has to be admired for her courage which came because of her strong faith. As everyone is aware, her behaviour was, to most clerics, outlandish at best, and deserving of the pyre for claiming to be in direct touch with heaven. Joan of Arc didn't get away so easily, wasn't the same Bedford around at the time? I loved her simple prayers especially when she asks Jesus to forgive her for her failings just as he forgave Peter and Mary Magdalen. Yes, I could go on but there is a lot to read between the lines and this makes the book a fascinating read all round. One point I wish to make - the front cover is not what is advertised, it's the Annunciation but I visited the Burrell Museum so it's acceptable too.
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41 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a modern rendering of the earliest surviving autobiographical writing in English. Kempe lived in Lynn, Norfolk, in the late fourteenth-century. She was the daughter of a five-times mayor, a wife, mother of fourteen children and a self-confessed failed business woman. Although famed for the exuberance of her religious experiences, the book also reveals incidental details about Kempe's marriage, work and daily life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Seriously, I cannot review this book. It is the earliest know work of literature by a woman. That should be enough reason to acquire it to read. Margery was a deeply religious woman, to the point of fanaticism, which takes her down some interesting paths in life. Absolute classic.
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For all those who know and have read the works of Julian of Norwich, this is a lesser known book by one of her contemporaries. Recommended for those who enjoy 14th C literature - Chaucer for example: this is a superb translation, which makes it very easy and enjoyable to read.
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hard going and monotonous....continual weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth and the responses of others to this....it was not the book I was looking for....interesting when you consider when it was written, but gave me nothing in regard to why people go on pilgrimages
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All I want to know is; Is the text in Middle English or has it been 'Translated' into Modern English, strangely none of the bibliographic information seems to include the language! Thanks .
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I was researching some locla "colour" for a monk character in a museum. This book provided interesting information and background and was an interesting read anyway
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