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Key Facts

title · The Book of Margery Kempe

author · Margery Kempe

type of work · Autobiography

genre · Spiritual autobiograpy

language · Middle English

time and place written · 1436, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England

date of first publication · 1501 (extracts); manuscript rediscovered in 1934

publisher · Originally dictated by Kempe, transcribed by an unnamed priest. Extracts from the work were published in 1501 by the printer Wynken de Worde.

narrator · Margery Kempe, who, toward the end of her life, looks back on her spiritual journey.

point of view · The point of view of Kempe’s Book is unusual in that she tells her own story, but does so in the third person, referring to herself as “this creature.” Even so, the work is highly subjective, focusing exclusively on Margery’s own perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

tone · Margery can be quite forceful in defending herself against the many accusations she faced; there is a defiant, willful tone to much of the Book, becoming much more tender and even passionate in the sections describing her mystical experiences.

tense · The story is told in the past tense.

setting (time) · Late fourteenth–early fifteenth century. Margery often jumbles the chronology of her life, jumping ahead in the story or backtracking as she goes.

setting (place) · TheBook begins and ends in England, but Margery travels to Rome, Jerusalem, Spain, and Germany in her lifetime.

protagonist · Margery Kempe, a married, well-off, middle-class woman who feels called to a life of religion and mystical contemplation after suffering a nervous breakdown following the birth of her first child. TheBook is the story of her spiritual and physical travels, with an emphasis on the opposition she encountered and the trials that she had to face as a result of her highly emotional and highly public devotion to God.

major conflict · Margery’s conflict is essentially that of self and society. Her claims of divinely inspired vision and her ostentatious displays of emotion lead her into conflict with her husband, her neighbors, and several political and religious authority figures.

themes · The importance of suffering for Christ’s sake; Margery is vindicated; desire for God as life purpose

motifs · Use of the third person; conversations with God; physicality

symbols · Margery’s tears

foreshadowing · In Margery’s first extended vision, she sees herself weeping and sobbing, foreshadowing the uncontrollable tears that later become so important to her.

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