The Book of Margery Kempe
The Boke of Margery Kempe, is known as the first extant spiritual autobiography in English.
Margery claims she was illiterate, ‘not lettryd’.
According to her own story, Margery dictated her book. It is not a chronological account.
It ignores anything that is not primarily the story of Margery’s relationship with God and her spiritual journey.
The purpose of her Book is to reveal and authorise the meaning and truth she believes God had called her to follow.
The Book is divided into two parts:
Book 1, is in many ways like similar devotional texts of the period particularly those by women mystics and visionaries.
Through various experiences, childbirth, madness and her first vision of Christ Margery narrates her spiritual journey - that leads into her travels, and the ’gift of tears’.
In England, where she is accused of Lollardy, the Holy Land, Assisi, and Rome, where she enters into her mystical marriage, and Santiago. The two great fires in Lynn.
Book 2, is more like a travel journal, or memoir.
John Kempe dies, as does Margery’s son. Margery accompanies her daughter-in law back to Prussia. And on to Danzig and Aachen, finally returning to Syon Abbey.
All of Margery’s travels symbolise her spiritual journey,
marked with transformative ‘turning points’.
It is clear from her book that Margery not only has an extremely retentive memory, but that she is very familiar with other books of devotion and spirituality, the Liturgy of the Church, as well as the Bible.
In some ways Margery’s story is reminiscent of the style and genre of Augustine’s Confessions, and the story of the Conversion of St Francis of Assisi, both of which Margery probably knew well.