The Book of Margery Kempe

“Few Men Would Believe this Creature”: Margery Kempe and the Reliability of the Narrative Voice College

The Book of Margery Kempe is widely considered to be the first autobiography in the English language. Unlike previous texts, in which a presumably truthful narrator voiced the story of the characters, Kempe is the author of her own story. As readers from an age in which autobiography and fiction are long-established literary forms, we may not find this at all strange. However, this would have posed a problem for readers of the time period, who were used to one specific form of literature, if indeed they had been exposed to books at all. Kempe’s voice differs from that of the traditional narrator not only in the basic structure of her work, but also in that readers are directly presented with a less than flattering view of her as a character—she sins, cries excessively, and is widely despised. Although an older Kempe may be voicing the story, the portrayal of her younger self as a widely decried sinner could easily jeopardize her credibility for readers regardless of how much time has passed. Specifically, during the passage in which she gives birth to her first child and soon enters a state of hysteria, convinced for six months that she is hearing demons that want her to kill herself, one might reasonably have doubts about her...

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