The Book of Margery Kempe
She was born Margery Brunham c. 1373 in King's Lynn (then Bishop's Lynn), Norfolk, England and married at the age of 20 to a local man named John Kempe, with whom she had 14 children. (c. 1373 after 1438)
Until the twentieth century, all the world knew of The Book of Margery Kempe were brief extracts taken from the original manuscript, which had been lost. Then in 1934, a full copy of the original book came to light in a private English library. The Book is considered the first autobiography in the English language. Margery Kempe herself was illiterate so she dictated her story to scribes in vernacular English.
In two parts totalling 99 chapters, the work is of substantial length and charts Margery's transformation from housewife to celebrated mystic, and gives an amazing insight into medieval Britain. She was a worldly woman who liked to wear flashy dresses so that men might find her attractive, and to boast of her 'high-born' relatives. After the birth of her first child she nearly died. It was at about this time that she claims to have started receiving visions of Jesus Christ. Though she had tried to be more devout after her vision, she was tempted by sexual pleasures and social jealousy for some years.
Eventually turning away from what she interpreted as the effect of worldly pride which had led her into failed business ventures, Kempe dedicated herself completely to the spiritual calling that she felt her earlier vision required. Striving to live a life of commitment to God, Kempe negotiated a chaste marriage with her husband, and began to make pilgrimages around Europe to holy sites including Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela. The stories surrounding these travels are what eventually comprised much of her Book, although a final section includes a series of prayers. The spiritual focus of her Book is on the mystical conversations she conducts with Christ for more than forty years.
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