Margery Kempe is a historic figure who lived in England between 1373 and 1438 and remained in history because of her writings and her religious beliefs. While Kempe was never formally made a saint by the Catholic Church she is named a Christian mystic and is known for her holiness. Some have even attributed her powers and she was said to have had revelations and power to perform miracles. Kempe came from a wealthy family and the male members in her family were skilled politicians. Despite this and her status, it is said that she never learned how to read and had to be read religious texts and from the Bible. She did however learned by heart certain texts and parts of the Bible and many remained impressed by her extensive religious knowledge.
Margery was married to a man named John with whom she had fourteen children but while her husband is mentioned in her writings, her children are not. Only one son appears in the novel but he remains unnamed. The relationship between Kempe and her husband was tense at times and they disagreed about many things. At one point, Kempe convinces John to both take a vow of chastity and so they stopped having sexual intercourse. Kempe records her husband’s injury and her feelings about having to take care of him and it is hinted that Kempe saw her husband more like a burden than a lifelong companion.
Kempe describes in great detail her travels and pilgrimages to holy places and how she felt that she was helped by God. She also describes her companions and she mentions often those who disagreed with her way of expressing her devotion for God. Her revelations are also included in the novel and also her feelings of uncertainty regarding the source of her revelations.
Kempe talks about the difficulties she had to face while writing the book and the unreliability of her fist scribe. While it is not mentioned who did end up writing the book, it is rumored that her confessor Robert was the one who wrote it in the end. The structure of the novel is at times confusing because Kempe herself admits that the events are not related in chronological order because the book was written towards the end of her life. Among the themes analyzed in the account, one can mention forgiveness, love for God, the right way to manifest one’s faith and isolation. Every theme is connected in one way or another with religion and it analyzes some kind of aspect that connects God and a human being.
The book is a masterpiece of devotional literature, and is significant as a formative entry in English literary genres. In fact, it is generally believed that the Book of Margery Kempe is the first book written by a British person that can be considered an autobiography.