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The Book of Margery Kempe

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Title: The Book of Margery Kempe  
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Subject: Margery Kempe, 1420s works, Religious autobiographies, Autobiography, Thorn (letter)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Book of Margery Kempe

The Book of Margery Kempe is a medieval text attributed to Margery Kempe, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim who lived at the turn of the fifteenth century. It details Kempe's life, her travels, her alleged experiences of divine revelation (including her visions of interacting with Jesus as well as other biblical figures), and her presence at key biblical events such as the Nativity and the Crucifixion.

Kempe's book is written in the third person, employing the phrase "this creature" to refer to Kempe in order to display humility before God. Kempe claimed to be illiterate and her book was dictated to two scribes who set it down. Modern editions of Kempe's book are based on a manuscript copied by a scribe named Salthows sometime in the fifteenth century (the original manuscript has been lost). The Salthows manuscript, then owned by Colonel W. Butler-Bowdon, was found in a home in Lancashire in 1934 by Hope Emily Allen, who was instrumental in the publication of the second modern edition of the text.[1]

Prior to the discovery of the full text, all that was known of Kempe's book was a pamphlet by Wynkyn de Worde from 1501 which contained seven pages of excerpts from The Book of Margery Kempe. Kempe's book is widely cited as the first autobiography in English; however, scholars disagree on whether it can accurately be called an autobiography, or whether it would be more accurately classified as a confession of faith or autohagiography.[2]

Modern editions and translations

  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, trans. Anthony Bale. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Sanford Brown Meech, with prefatory note by Hope Emily Allen (EETS. Original series; no. 212). London: Oxford University Press, 1940.
  • Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe: A New Translation, Contexts and Criticism, trans. and ed., Lynn Staley. New York: Norton, 2001.


  1. ^ Kathryn Maude, 'Citation and Marginalisation: The Ethics of Feminism in Medieval Studies', Journal of Gender Studies, 23 (2014), 1-15 (pp. 8-9),
  2. ^ Atkinson, Clarissa W. (1983). Mystic and Pilgrim: The Book and the World of Margery Kempe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 9–23.  
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