Search results

Elements of Margery Kempe’s world
Laura Kalas

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.

in Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe
Editors: Laura Kalas and Laura Varnam

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.

Abstract only
Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe in the twenty-first century
Laura Kalas and Laura Varnam

This introduction theorises and problematises the through-line of ‘encounters’ as full of dynamic, multiple, reciprocal, and disruptive potentialities for Margery Kempe studies. Harnessing the infamous ‘Pike Gate’ episode in the Book – as the editors term it – the introduction explores the ways in which Kempe transcends time and space as an un/popular, unruly holy woman always already everywhere. Arguing that Kempe encounters and refashions herself in order to reclaim her identity in an environment in which she is often reduced to a figure of mythology, the editors consider her fluctuating status as both legitimate and infamous; existing in and out of ‘truth’ as at once real and fictionalised. The asynchrony of the Book makes ‘something out of joint’ about Kempe, as Carolyn Dinshaw posits; the space of the feasting room in the worshipful lady’s house functions as a heterotopia where she exists, in Foucauldian terms, as ‘simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’. Elucidating the volume’s four categories of encounter – textual, internal, external, and performative – the introduction explores the way in which The Book of Margery Kempe energetically and deliberately resists categorisation. In considering the volume’s chapters as dynamic, and often collaborative, encounters themselves across time, text, theory and mode, Kempe’s Book is brought into conversation with modern and medieval worlds to offer new, critical opportunities. The multiple encounters inside and outside of the Book gesture towards the very slipperiness of who we might deem Margery Kempe to be, and what our own encounters with her Book might mean.

in Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe