No doubt these texts also constituted some of the ‘swech other’ works read collaboratively by Margery and her priest, demonstrating clearly that female-authored visionary writings were being circulated and read in the milieu in which Margery Kempe was operating at this time. In this chapter, however, we wish to argue that another of these ‘swech other’ would have been the Liber specialis gratiae of MechthildofHackeborn (1240–98), a visionary nun and chantress domiciled in the Helfta monastery in
Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe illuminates the capaciousness of Margery Kempe studies in the twenty-first century. Through multiple, probing ‘encounters’, this innovative collection of essays generates and inspires interdisciplinary, overlapping, supportive, disruptive, and exploratory theoretical and creative approaches to the Book, and is a valuable new critical companion. Structured around four categories of encounter – textual, internal, external, and performative – the volume suggests particular thematic threads yet reveals the way in which The Book of Margery Kempe resists strict categorisation. The fundamental unruliness of the Book is a touchstone for the analyses in the volume’s chapters, which define and destabilise concepts such ‘autobiography’ or ‘feeling’, and communities of texts and people, both medieval and modern. The chapters, written by leading scholars in Margery Kempe studies, cover a broad range of approaches: theories of psychoanalysis, emotion, ecocriticism, autobiography, post-structuralism, and performance; and methodologies including the medical humanities, history of science, history of medieval women’s literary culture, digital humanities, literary criticism, oral history, the Global Middle Ages, archival discovery, and creative reimagining. Deliberately diverse, these encounters with the Book capture the necessary expanse that it demands. Topics include the intertextuality of the Book, particularly in Europe; Kempe’s position within a global context, both urban and rural; the historicity of her life and kin; the Book’s contested form as a ‘life’ textualised and memorialised; and its performative, collaborative mode. Encounters are dynamic, but they always require negotiation and reciprocity. This volume examines how encountering Kempe and her Book is a multi-way process, and paves the way for future critical work.
Exemplarity and Margery Kempe’s encounters of the heart
The heart is a central image in MechthildofHackeborn's Booke of Gostlye Grace , which Liz McAvoy and Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa's Chapter 2 above argues was influential for Margery's Book , and I will show how the imagery of the heart in The Book of Margery Kempe relates to Mechthild's ‘cardiocentric spirituality’ as well as to the Middle English lyric tradition.
Yoshikawa argues that ‘the trope of the physical and metaphorical hearts serves to generate devotional aspiration’ and I will show how the use of the
Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe in the twenty-first century
Laura Kalas and Laura Varnam
. By pinpointing the ‘swech other’ texts that Kempe is recorded as having been read by a priest, McAvoy and Yoshikawa argue that one of these texts would have been the Liber specialis gratiae of the thirteenth-century visionary nun MechthildofHackeborn, probably in its Middle English translation, The Boke of Gostely Grace . Regarding the Mechthildian elements within Kempe's Book as transforming it into a quasi-devotional compilation like those that the priest was reading with her, McAvoy and Yoshikawa consider evidence of the intertextual materials, or
also evidenced by Kempe's first entry into the Holy Trinity Guild, probably in 1435, as this chapter later discusses.
Liz Herbert McAvoy and Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa, ‘The intertextual dialogue and conversational theology of MechthildofHackeborn and Margery Kempe’, Chapter 2 , this volume.