Directness Of Mind
The Book of Margery Kempe, A modern version by W. Butler-Bowdon (Cape, 10s. 6d.)
Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT
As all the world now knows, for owing to an accident this notice has been delayed, The Book of Margery Kempe, has on many counts a quite unusual importance. She was the contemporary and friend, though how great a friend we do not know, of Juliana of Norwich. Professor Chambers in his introduction tells us that Margery Kempe's book is the first extant biography in the English tongue.
Margery herself was the daughter of one of the leading citizens of Lynn. She was married and had a devoted if surprisingly subservient husband. But this may just as well be attributed to Margery's surprising gifts and character as to any weakness on his part. Till the publication of this book Margery was only known by certain fragments of devotional writing that led to her being placed alongside of Juliana of Norwich as a mystical writer.
Her own frankness about herself has now imperilled that position. She was favoured with the gift of tears and her use, or as her neighbours and companions thought her abuse, of that gift was remarkable. She was accustomed " to break out with a loud voice and cry marvellously, and weep and sob so hideously that many a man and woman wondered on her therefor." But in spite of a seeming obstinacy she tells us she would "rather have suffered any bodily penance than these feelings, if she might have put them away. for the dread she had of illusions and deceits of her ghostly enemies."
What is so striking about her writing is the simple objectivity with which she narrates things and a directness of mind that is foreign to the times in which we live.