The Female Patience Figure as Shrine

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


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


Sacred Space Patience Literature Holy Place Medieval Literature Spiritual Ideal 
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© Robin Waugh 2012

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  • Robin Waugh

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