Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions

Article excerpt

Lynn Staley, Margery Kempe's Dissenting Fictions (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, I994). xiii + 224 pp. ISBN 0-271-02030-4, L31.50 (hard covers); ISBN 0-271-01031-2, L15.50(p/b).

In this forthright study of The Book of Margery Kempe, Lynn Staley maintains that what seems to be a largely factual and often disorganized autohagiography is actually a carefully constructed and self-conscious work of fiction, designed as a sophisticated analysis of the politico-religious forces at work in fifteenthcentury society. Margery, the protagonist of this fiction, is a literary character based on depictions of female saints like Bridget of Sweden or Elisabeth of Hungary, and bearing no more necessary relation to Kempe the author than do Chaucer or Langland's personae to the personalities of these avowed fictional makers. Deploying this central character with an array of others scribes, confessors, bishops, neighbours - whose historical status (if it can even always be affirmed) is likewise rigorously subordinated to ethical and narrative exigencies, Kempe presents a picture of the complex negotiations between secular and sacred, women and men, rich and poor, that characterize the world as she sees it: a picture whose radical potential (one that often aligns it with Lollardy) is only partly veiled by the text's need to avoid retaliation. Reading the Book thus (and with rich illustrations from other sources, including chronicles, parliamentary records, plays and episcopal registers), Staley discerns the lineaments of a narrative argument which `probes the foundations of our need for or belief in community', finding community not in the places where it is codified as an institutional ideal but, rather, `in individual moments of charity' (p. 198).

The book deserves close attention as a serious and self-consistent attempt to read a major Middle English work, one that presents special challenges and is still sometimes treated with the merest snobbery. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.