Form and Content
The Book of Margery Kempe, the first known autobiography in English, is the account of a fifteenth century mystic. Unlike most medieval mystics—persons who enjoyed an intimate rapport with God—Kempe was neither a recluse nor a member of a religious order, but rather the wife of a town burgess and the mother of fourteen children. Although she worried that her wifehood made her less pleasing to God than if she had been a virgin, Christ assured her through her meditations that He loved married women too and that her reward in Heaven would be equal to that of the virgin martyrs and holy, celibate widows. This assurance, to which Kempe makes repeated reference, offset the prevalent medieval opinion that only those women who were physically chaste could attain a high degree of spirituality.
While the chronology of Kempe’s religious experience is somewhat ambiguous, her book centers around the key events that shaped her life: her conversion from worldliness to a close communion with Christ; her vow of marital chastity; her voyages to the Holy Land and elsewhere; and her fits of loud weeping. After she had been married for several years, Kempe suddenly heard melodious sounds and leapt from her bed, exclaiming, “It is full merry in heaven!” From that time on, she abandoned her preoccupations with beauty and material success, turning her thoughts to Christ. At the approximate age of forty, she exacted from her husband a promise of chastity, for,...
(The entire section is 594 words.)