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The Female Patience Figure as Shrine

  • Robin Waugh
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The genre of patience literature is particularly helpful with regard to the study of The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1438), which has recently attracted much critical attention.1 Many events in Margery’s spiritual autobiography on the surface seem bizarre to modern audiences, even when readers are familiar with other medieval works because many such readers (and particularly literary critics) want the conventions of mysticism, hagiog-raphy, or “real life” to prevail within such a composition, but not all three at once, intermittently upstaging—sometimes fracturing—one another almost without notice.2 Hagiographical motifs such as pris on (12 , 134–35), self-denial (12, 61), mortification of the flesh (11–12), dangerous mobs (28, 33), and trials before authority-figures (28, 37, 129–33) jostle in the Book with disconcerting fits of tears and wailing (68, 182, 184), outrageously cutting criticism (120, 125), childishly mean personal insults (62), and vicious threats (14, 113). But this jarring mixture of events and, in more general terms, the tortured conflict between life on earth and spiritual ideals that runs through much of The Book of Margery Kempe seem less unusual and alienating if one looks at her career through the lens of patience literature as opposed to that of (perhaps comically) unsuccessful auto-hagiography.3

Keywords

Sacred Space Patience Literature Holy Place Medieval Literature Spiritual Ideal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See the bibliography in John H. Arnold and Katherine J. Lewis, eds., A Companion to The Book of Margery Kempe (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2004), pp. 223–40.Google Scholar
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    Morrison, Women Pilgrims, pp. 16–42, and nn. 41–43. The shrine attracted many famous women. See p. 17, and Carol F. Heffernan, “Praying Before the Image of Mary: Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale, VII 502–12,” Chaucer Review 39 (2004): 106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  15. 21.
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    Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, Earnest Exuberance in Chaucer’s Poetic’s: Textual Games in the Canterbury Tales (Lewiston: Mellen, 1993), pp. 187–88.Google Scholar
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    Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 146;Google Scholar
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  27. 35.
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  29. 36.
    Lisa Manter, “The Savior of Her Desire: Margery Kempe’s Passionate Gaze,” Exemplaria 13 (2001): 39–66. See alsoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Sue Ellen Holbrook, “‘About Her’: Margery Kempe’s Book of Feeling and Writing,” in The Idea of Medieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer and Medieval Culture in Honor of Donald R. Howard, ed. James M. Dean and Christian K. Zacher (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1992), pp. 265–84.Google Scholar
  33. 40.
    For a late thirteenth-century or early fourteenth-century devotional object that depicts the Virgin as a container of the Holy Trinity, see Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), plate 13.Google Scholar
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    See Sarah Beckwith, Christ’s Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 91.Google Scholar
  35. 42.
    Ruth Summar McIntyre, “Margery’s ‘Mixed Life’: Place, Pilgrimage, and the Problem of Genre in The Book of Margery Kempe,” English Studies 89 (2008): 650. Morrison describes Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s idea of “nomad space,” “open-ended, enterable at any point, acentered, anti-hierarchical, multiple, open, without borders and in marginalized areas,” as the kind of space Margery wants, but I see Margery as embodying this idea of nomad space, a leap Morrison does not make. See Women Pilgrims, p. 122, n. 65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 44.
    See Herbert Thurston, “Margery the Astonishing,” The Month 168 (1936): 446–56.Google Scholar
  37. 48.
    See Dhira B. Mahoney, “Margery Kempe’s Tears and the Power over Language,” in Margery Kempe: A Book of Essays, ed. S. J. McEntire (New York: Garland, 1992), pp. 37–50.Google Scholar
  38. 49.
    See, for example, Sarah Beckwith, “A Very Material Mysticism: The Medieval Mysticism of Margery Kempe,” in Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology and History, ed. David Aers (Sussex: Harvester, 1988), pp. 34–57.Google Scholar

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© Robin Waugh 2012

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  • Robin Waugh

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