Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Book of Margery Kempe


Take, for instance, the case of Colonel William Erdeswick Ignatius Butler-Bowdon, a man with a dynastically inflected surname and a handsome family seat in Derbyshire to match. In 1934, Butler-Bowdon went rummaging for some ping-pong balls to enliven a dullish houseparty. From the back of a crammed cupboard, he pulled out an incomparable treasure, The Book of Margery Kempe, since described as the earliest known English autobiographical text written by a woman or, quite possibly, by anyone at all. It had been in his family for years without anyone really noticing.

Margery Kempe was a merchant’s wife in early 15th-century Norfolk who was halfway through a comfortable life when she decided to give up her smart clothes and good table and marry Christ instead. Briskly informing her husband, with whom she had 14 children, that she would rather see him beheaded than have sex with him again, she set off on a series of highly idiosyncratic pilgrimages which took her as far as Jerusalem.

Yup, The Book of Margery Kempe is this month's choice for my Audible credit. I've been interested in her for a while to be honest. Interest tweaked when Shona did the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage recently and it dawned on me that Kempe had done it all that time ago. My incipient religious mania notwithstanding, the aggressive agency of Margery Kempe's life is a wake-up call which brings me on to Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It. The quote above is from the Guardian's review of it.

I didn't really appreciate that Janina Ramirez, the author, was a serious person before, I just liked the "bull in a china shop" persona she brings presenting arts on the TV.

Chalk another one up for the patriarchy I suppose.

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