Skip over navigation

The Book of Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe

Important Quotations Explained

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Key Facts

1. She greeted the Vicar, asking him if she could—in the afternoon, when he had eaten—speak with him for an hour or two of the love of God. He, lifting up his hands and blessing himself, said, “Bless us! How could a woman occupy one or two hours with the love of our Lord? I shan’t eat a thing till I find out what you can say of our Lord God in the space of an hour.”

This is the first meeting that Margery has with the Vicar of St. Stephens, recorded in Book One, section 17 of the Book. Although he sounds dubious here, the Vicar soon becomes one of Margery’s champions. Even from those who are disposed to believe her, such as the Vicar, Margery must contend initially with skepticism and condescension. The Vicar shows both pastoral friendliness and authoritative assertion in his response to Margery’s request for an appointment, just as both humility and self-assertion exist in the request itself. Note that Margery makes it sound as if she will be doing the talking during the hour, not the learned Vicar. The Vicar responds with a challenge, offering Margery a chance to prove herself but expressing his doubt that she will do so. Margery is undaunted, as usual, and she makes the quizzical Vicar into a fast friend.

2. Therefore I must be intimate with you, and lie in your bed with you. Daughter, you greatly desire to see me, and you may boldly, when you are in bed, take me to you as your wedded husband. . . .

In the midst of one of Margery’s extended visions in Book One, section 36, Jesus makes this remarkable statement to Margery. The sexual content of the statement is naturally the most striking part, but it soon becomes clear that he is speaking in spiritual terms—that sex is being used here as a metaphor or image of mystical union. Jesus does not merely say that he wants to be Margery’s lover; he addresses her as his daughter, and says he intends to be her father, son, husband, and brother—while she is to be his wife, mother, sister, and child. In other words, Jesus intends to be all men—all things—to her, and she will be known and loved by him completely, in all aspects of her being as a woman. Margery’s earthly mystical experience is meant as a foretaste of heaven itself. In effect, Margery’s female experience of the male Christ is presented as the essence of what all humans, male and female, can expect from direct union with God—a bold, pro-woman statement indeed.

3. When her crying was passed, she came before the Archbishop and fell down on her knees, the Archbishop saying very roughly to her, “Why do you weep so, woman?”
   She answering said, “Sir, you shall wish some day that you had wept as sorely as I.”

Margery’s retort to the Archbishop of York in Book One, section 52, demonstrates her confidence in the face of aggressive questioning from a powerful figure of authority. Margery’s absolute confidence in God’s blessing on her, in the form of her tears, is enough to give her the courage to stand up to, and even to rebuke, a man as imposing as the Archbishop. The point of Margery’s statement is also important, hinting at the symbolic value of her tears as prayer. Someday, Margery is saying, the Archbishop will wish that he had been as thoroughly attuned to the way Christ suffered for his sake as Margery is. Her tears are not a punishment, but a sign of grace, and those who are not so blessed would do well to pay attention.

4. [She] many times met with men of that district who said to her, “Woman, give up this life that you lead and go and spin, and card wool, as other women do, and do not suffer so much shame and so much unhappiness. We would not suffer so much for any money on earth.”
   Then she said to them, “I do not suffer as much sorrow as I would do for our Lord’s love, for I only suffer cutting words, and our merciful Lord Christ Jesus. . . . suffered hard strokes, bitter scourgings, and shameful death at the last, for me and for all mankind, blessed may he be.”

When Margery is arrested for the second time in Yorkshire, in Book One, section 53, she faces ridicule for making such an unfeminine spectacle of herself and is urged to return home and take up her wifely duties once again. Margery’s answer ignores the content of the men’s remarks, focusing instead on the unspiritual small-mindedness revealed by their attitude toward suffering. In response to their assertion that living as she does is simply not worth the trouble, Margery invokes the crucified Jesus to ask, in effect, do you wish he had chosen the easy path instead of the way that leads to suffering? Seen in this light, Margery says, her own suffering is nothing, and she can even gladly accept it as part of her devotion to Christ.

5. Then the lady’s priest came to her, saying, “Woman, Jesus is long since dead.”
   When her crying ceased, she said to the priest, “Sir, his death is as fresh to me as if he had died this same day, and so, I think, it ought to be to you and to all Christian people.”

In Book One, section 60, Margery is again being challenged by a religious figure for her emotional displays, in this case for weeping at the sight of a statue of Mary holding the dead Jesus. And again, Margery’s response is forthright and unafraid. Turning the priest’s question around, she shifts the issue from the impropriety of her unusual reaction to the death of Jesus to the fact that her response is, indeed, so unusual. Why, Margery wants to know, doesn’t everybody cry when they think of Jesus—that’s the real question. Margery’s tears once again take on their symbolic, didactic value. She cries because she sees Christ’s sacrifice as occurring even now, and eternally—which is in fact what Christians profess to believe. The greatest spiritual danger for a Christian is to forget about Christ, and Margery’s greatest ambition is to become a living reminder of his love.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us