Catholic Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Mary R. Reichardt | Go to book overview

MARGERY KEMPE (c. 1373–c. 1440)

BIOGRAPHY

Margery Kempe was a medieval mystic and traveler whose memoir, The Book of Margery Kempe, first published in 1501, is the earliest known autobiography written in the English language. The Book, written in the third person and dictated some twenty years after her initial vision of Christ, is virtually the only source of information about her. She was born about 1373 in the mercantile town of King’s Lynn (then called Bishop’s Lynn), Norfolk, England. Her father, John Brunham (or Burnham), was a prosperous merchant and five-time mayor of the town. Nothing is remarkable about her youth except for two things: although she was born into a middle-class family, she was not taught to read and write; and she also committed a hidden sin, probably of a sexual nature, which would later torment her soul immensely.

In about 1393, she married John Kempe, a young merchant and burgess of Lynn, and in due course became pregnant. Her childbirth, the first of fourteen, was a very difficult one. For the next eight months or so, she was gravely ill; during that period she “went out of her mind and was amazingly disturbed and tormented with spirits” (Book, p. 1). Fearing death, she sent for her confessor, intending to be absolved of the hidden sin of her youth. The priest’s sharp condemnation of her, however, made her lose her mind. She was rescued from insanity, according to her account, by a mystical encounter with Christ in the flesh, which was the first of her many mystical experiences. One day Kempe looked up from her bed, and Jesus was sitting there; he said, “Daughter, why have you forsaken me, and I never forsook you?” and then he ascended into heaven (Book, p. 42).

After the miraculous recovery, however, Kempe resumed her worldly life full of covetousness and pride. She wore fancy clothes and, to increase family income, opened several business enterprises in succession, including a brewery, a horse-milling, and a bakery. Her businesses failed miserably one after another, which she regarded as a sign of divine punishment. At this time she was

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Catholic Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Notes xxix
  • Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690) 1
  • Julia Alvarez (1950–) 7
  • Angela of Foligno (c.1248–1309) 13
  • Katherine Burton (1884–1969) 18
  • Elizabeth Cary (1585–1639) 24
  • Madre Castillo (1671–1742) 29
  • Bibliography 33
  • Willa Cather (1873–1947) 34
  • Bibliography 39
  • Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510) 41
  • Bibliography 45
  • Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) 46
  • Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951–1982) 52
  • Sandra Cisneros (1954–) 57
  • Clare of Assisi (1194–1253) 63
  • Judith Ortiz Cofer (1952–) 68
  • Elizabeth Cullinan (1933–) 74
  • Dorothy Day (1897–1980) 81
  • Annie Dillard (1945–) 89
  • Louise Erdrich (1954–) 95
  • Rosario FerrÉ (1938–) 102
  • Lady Georgiana Fullerton (1812–1885) 108
  • Rumer Godden (1907–1998) 114
  • Bibliography 120
  • Caroline Gordon (1895–1981) 121
  • Mary Gordon (1949–) 129
  • Louise Imogen Guiney (1861–1920) 136
  • Madame Guyon (1648–1717) 143
  • Madame Guyon (1648–1717) 149
  • Emily Henrietta Hickey (1845–1924) 155
  • Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) 161
  • Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (c. 935–c. 975) 169
  • Bibliography 173
  • Marie de L’incarnation (1599–1672) 175
  • Sor Juana InÉs de la Cruz (1648–1695) 181
  • Julian of Norwich (c. 1342–after 1413) 187
  • Sheila Kaye-Smith (1887–1956) 193
  • Margery Kempe (c. 1373–c. 1440) 200
  • Bibliography 205
  • Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (1851–1926) 207
  • Mary Lavin (1912–1996) 213
  • Bibliography 218
  • Denise Levertov (1923–1997) 220
  • Notes 226
  • Clare Boothe Luce (1903–1987) 228
  • Mary Mccarthy (1912–1989) 235
  • Rigoberta MenchÚ (1959–) 241
  • Alice Meynell (1847–1922) 247
  • Pilar MillÁn Astray (1879–1949) 254
  • Kathleen Norris (1947–) 261
  • Edna O’brien (1932–) 267
  • Bibliography 273
  • Flannery O’connor (1925–1964) 275
  • Bibliography 280
  • Eunice Odio (1919–1974) 283
  • Sister Carol Anne O’marie (1933–) 289
  • Bibliography 294
  • Emilia Pardo BazÁn (1851–1921) 295
  • Bibliography 299
  • Christine de Pizan (1365–c.1430) 301
  • Katherine Anne Porter (1890–1980) 308
  • Adelaide Anne Procter (1825–1864) 315
  • Antonia Pulci (1452–1501) 320
  • Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) 326
  • Mary Anne Sadlier (1820–1903) 333
  • Bibliography 337
  • Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) 338
  • Bibliography 342
  • Valerie Sayers (1952–) 344
  • Bibliography 350
  • Sophie Rostopchine, Countess de SÉgur (1799–1874) 351
  • Muriel Spark (1918–) 357
  • Edith Stein (1891–1942) 362
  • Bibliography 367
  • Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542–1587) 369
  • Notes 374
  • Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) 375
  • Bibliography 380
  • ThÉrÈse of Lisieux (1873–1897) 381
  • Bibliography 386
  • Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) 387
  • Bibliography 392
  • Simone Weil (1909–1943) 394
  • Antonia White (1899–1980) 398
  • Selected General Bibliography 403
  • Index 409
  • About the Editor and Contributors 417
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