Margery Kempe, oral history, and the value of intersubjectivity
in Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe
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This chapter presents a fresh approach to the Book by applying current methodologies of oral history to analysis of its internal operations. In particular it draws upon the notion of intersubjectivity, and post-positivist approaches to memory, in order to shed new conceptual light on the processes by which the Book was created. The frequency with which Margery tells and retells her life story in the Book is striking. This happens over a twenty-year period before the Book was finally written down, and often via the medium of confession. By the time Margery came to have the Book written she had thus had extensive opportunities to retell and collaboratively refine her life story with clerics who are described as highly educated, and/or holding high office, and, in one case, of saintly reputation. This enabled her to ensure that the final, recorded version of her life story was convincing, in order to support the claims it made about her holiness. This chapter contends that the Book allows us access to vital truths about the experiences of an individual medieval woman, and the society in which she lived, regardless of the precise accuracy of events described within it. In taking this approach the argument is especially influenced by Daniel James’s study of the life of Doña Maria Roldán, based on her personal testimony. Thus, engaging with the methodologies of oral history allows for new reflection on the status of the Book as History, in relation both to medieval and modern epistemologies of historical truth.

Editors: Laura Kalas and Laura Varnam

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