This reassessment of the familial, social, and political contexts which helped shape Margery Kempe’s life and character is rooted in new evidence from archival sources. An examination of the Brunhams’ and Kempes’ family and other connections outside, as well as within, Margery’s home town shows that her father’s status was higher than has previously been appreciated and her implied judgement of John Kempe as of lower social worth not unreasonable, suggesting her marriage was a genuine love-match rather than the strategic alliance which might have been expected. The nature of the conflict which beset Lynn’s governing community in the early fifteenth century is reviewed together with the roles played by Margery’s friends and supporters, among them the Carmelite friar Alan of Lynn (here identified for the first time as a member of a third-generation immigrant family), her revered confessor, Robert Spryngold, and the ‘worshipful burgess’ and later mayor who interceded on Margery’s behalf with the intolerant friar-preacher. The mayor is plausibly identified as John Permonter, who successfully brokered a settlement between the merchant-burgesses who had traditionally held sway in this supremely mercantile borough and the ‘artificers’ once dismissed as unfit to hold civic office. Not only do Margery’s friends prove to have been peacemakers in the long-running conflict over the borough’s governance, but Margery herself appears to have embraced, rather than resented, the changing social order in her home town, forming associations in later life with members of the newly empowered class of artificer-burgesses.
This chapter argues for the synchronicity of two seemingly disparate aspects of The Book of Margery Kempe: the authority and genesis of Book II, and Margery Kempe’s maturing interaction, in Book II, with the natural world. The chapter, drawing on ecocritical theory, proposes that these two, distinct phenomena concurrently ‘materialise’. The first half of the chapter explores the greater vocal authority of Book II, which relies less upon memory and mythology than Book I, and more upon recent physical and spiritual interactions with the world during a specific life-moment in older age. There exists a synchronicity between the writing of Book II and Margery Kempe’s formal admittance into the prestigious Guild of the Holy Trinity in King’s Lynn by April 1438. The second half of the chapter explores Kempe’s relationship with the natural world in Book II. Donna Haraway has called for earth’s inhabitants to undergo a sympoietic ‘worlding-with’ all beings that will create new narratives for earthly flourishing. Kempe’s negotiations with the elements of nature show a holy woman inscribed not only into the Guild record but simultaneously into a world of just such a natural connection. Kempe narrates each episode with a distinct and immediate auctoritee and concludes with prayers that reiterate the ordo creationis. As designated ‘creatur’ of the Book, Kempe concludes the text with a richer understanding of Creation and her privileged place within it.
The final section of this book considers two contrasting instances of contemporary swooning: Marianna Simnett’s Faint with Light (2016), a light and sound installation which records Simnett repeatedly passing out; and the ubiquitous use of *swoon* as an online ‘action’. Online swooning is considered in relation to the endemic irony David Foster Wallace referred to as ‘sardonic exhaustion’, which leads to questions about the role swooning might have now in terms of the virtual, affect and embodiment.
This chapter re-examines the frequently neglected collection of prayers found at the end of The Book of Margery Kempe and argues that they are a deliberate attempt on the part of Kempe and her amanuenses to develop and reinforce her pious identity as an intercessor for her fellow Christians. It examines the scribal conventions and practices of her amanuensis Richard Salthows in copying the text, probably with the assistance of Kempe’s confessor Robert Spryngolde, and concludes that the collection of prayers was composed separately from the Book and deliberately appended to it in the manuscript as a clerical validation of her piety. Drawing on analysis of the rhetorical structures of Middle English vernacular prayer, the chapter argues that this collection not only appropriates and reworks examples of contemporary prayers to which Kempe was exposed but also contains prayers for which there are no obvious models and may thus be her own compositions. A close comparison of the prayers with surviving Middle English bidding prayers, the only part of the Mass she would have heard in the vernacular, demonstrates how she transforms those petitions into first-person statements that emphasise her spiritual standing and her right to criticise those she believed to be errant in their faith. In sum, the chapter argues that a reassessment of the prayers as a component of the construction of Kempe’s pious identity is not only long overdue but a promising avenue from which to examine the intentions both of Kempe and her scribes.
Several twentieth- and twenty-first-century scripts dramatise the encounter between Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, including J. Janda’s Julian, Dana Bagshaw’s Cell Talk, Heidi Schreck’s Creature, and the Queynte Laydies’ Marge & Jules. The re-creations develop the women’s relationship through private conversations, following the format of Margery’s Book even if they privilege Julian as a character. These modern plays point up a parallel focus on Margery and Julian’s connection in scholarly interpretations of the Book; however, a re-examination of the fifteenth-century text reveals emphases on Julian’s authority and Margery’s network rather than on a female friendship. The chapter considers their encounter in the context of Margery’s many other exchanges with religious and secular figures in public, private, and visionary spaces. The placement of their meeting within a series of visits in Norwich and the description of their ‘dalyawns’ and ‘comownyng’ (terms used to characterise multiple other encounters) locate it within the pattern of Margery’s meetings with religious figures rather than friends. She seeks out Julian for her visionary expertise and authority, as part of an ongoing project to collect approvals and develop a diverse and international network.
This is the first extensive study of literary swooning, homing in on the swoon’s long, rich and suggestive history as well as its potential for opening up new ways of thinking about the contemporary. From the lives of medieval saints to recent romance fiction, the swoon has had a pivotal place in English literature. This study shows that swoons have been intimately connected to explorations of emotionality, ecstasy and transformation; to depictions of sickness and of dying; and to performances of gender and gendering. A literary history of swooning is therefore also a history of crux points for how we imagine the body, and for evolving ideas of physiology, gender, and sexuality. Tracking the history of the figure of the swoon from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century, this study suggests that the swoon has long been used as a way to figure literary creation and aesthetic sensitivity: from the swoons of early mystics to contemporary literary-theoretical depictions of destabilised subjects, literary faints have offered a model of overwhelming, aesthetic, affective response. In the work of Chaucer and Shakespeare, swoons are seen as moments of generic possibility, through which the direction of a text might be transformed. In romantic, gothic and modernist fiction, this study focuses on morbid, feminised swoons used by writers who reject masculinist, heteronormative codes of health. In contemporary romance fiction, irony, cliché and bathos shadow the transformative possibilities of the swoon. This book offers an exciting new way to examine the history of the body alongside the history of literary response.
This chapter argues that the frequent swoons of vampire victims are blurred, altered states that are darkly and sensuously ecological: in vampire narratives, victims swoon into networks of predation, contagion, telepathy and environmental degradation, and the vampiric swoon displays a highly erotic and anxious imagining of interconnection and interference. The swoon iconises a pleasurable softening into receptivity that allows incursions of one body into another; and of different minds into one another. Some classic vampire texts are re-presented here (The Vampyre (1819), Carmilla (1872), Interview with a Vampire (1976)) focusing on the swoon as an initiation into a polymeric reimagining of mind and body – the vampiric swoon produces a mesmerised, ecological continuity between victim and vampire which is, at its most extreme, telepathic. The most famous vampire text, Dracula (1897), coincides with the early development of psychoanalysis and the swoon-states of the novel express deep anxieties about interference and thought transference, anxieties that were also important to the early development of psychoanalysis and to Freud’s treatment of swooning hysterics. The chapter presents a set of correspondences between the vampiric swoon-states of Dracula, the early hypnotic treatment of hysteria, and psychoanalysis’s anxious relation to telepathy and occult modes of thinking. Finally, it reads swoons in the context of pandemics: mass-unconsciousness events are considered in the relation to mass-extinction events and the zoonotic transmission of disease to think about violent, deadly, morbidly beautiful forms of interrelation.
This chapter concerns Margery Kempe’s encounter with one of her key female interlocutors and supporters, referred to by Kempe as ‘Margaret Florentyne’ or ‘Dame Margarete Florentyn’. Kempe first meets this lady in the Italian city of Assisi and is then supported by her in Rome. In this chapter we posit the identity of Margaret Florentine, who has not previously been identified. Whilst the details given by Kempe are scant, we suggest that ‘Margaret Florentyne’ was the heiress, widow, and businesswoman Margherita degli Alberti (d. after 1417), a member of the wealthy Alberti banking family of Florence and Rome. This identification leads us to explore the Alberti family's deep devotion to, and patronage of, the cult of St Bridget of Sweden, their civic piety, their involvement with the Knights Hospitaller, and their exile in Rome: all aspects that are retrievable from Kempe's account. Margherita degli Alberti's religious circle – based around Dominican-Briggitine devotional culture – also provides a context for one of the most important moments in Kempe's life in the development of her spirituality, as she married the Godhead in Rome and made herself voluntarily poor. By identifying 'Margaret Florentyne', we can thus place Margery Kempe in the context of Renaissance Rome, leading to a new understanding of Kempe's devotional and cultural milieux.
The Book of Margery Kempe records a life of spectacular, embodied performance of devotional eros; Margery Kempe was a performance artist. Medieval holy women meet contemporary performance artists through the bridge of the nineteenth-century hysteric. The spectacle of women’s shame and suffering challenges and divides its audiences, requiring interpretative supplements. The mystic and pilgrim Kempe (c.1373–after 1438) and the performance artist Marina Abramović (1946–) both look back on their lives as performers, becoming critics and archivists as they take control of the meanings of their controversial performances: the comparison between them reveals Kempe’s artistry and Abramović’s reinterpretation of Christian ascetic practice. The documentary records they create permit future readers not only to study but also to re-enact their performances.
This chapter demonstrates how analogies and models are used in literature about Newtonian astronomy to communicate a cognitive experience of outer space. The argument centres on a series of educational dialogues on astronomy – John Harris’s Astronomical Dialogues, James Ferguson’s The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Astronomy, and Benjamin Martin’s The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Philosophy – and astronomical poems by John Hughes, David Mallet, Elizabeth Carter, Richard Blackmore, and Mark Akenside. The chapter surveys a series of analogical techniques for transmitting knowledge about space: conversation, the use of models such as orreries and globes as physical analogies that permit a range of cognitive and somatic experiences, explanatory domestic analogies that make comprehensible the vast scales and unseen forces of space, the Newtonian concept of an infinite universe as physico-theological trope, and the possibilities and restrictions of imaginative journeys into space. These examples demonstrate how the use of analogy transforms astronomy from an abstract and solitary philosophy into a polite, communal activity. From domestic familiarity to imaginative journey amongst the stars, the analogies surveyed in this chapter are shown to facilitate connections between the known and the unknown.