Library Dissertation Showcase

Faith and mental afflictions: Margery Kempe’s depiction of senselessness in early fifteenth-century England

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

This study will examine The Book of Margery Kempe, a fifteenth-century autobiographical text dictated by Margery Kempe. Kempe was a female mystic, and her text largely focused on recording on her spiritual journey and her personal experiences with Christ. Her account also included detailed descriptions of senselessness and mental pain. Whilst previous historiography has largely approached Kempe’s text from a religious, gendered or medical perspective, it has largely avoided analysing the different interactions between theological and medical discourse. This study will approach Kempe’s text from a religious and medical perspective, analysing how religious practices and medical theory affected and shaped Kempe’s personal experiences of mental pain. It will analyse how Kempe described and rationalised her pain by analysing different extracts from her autobiography. It will also compare her text with extracts from different medical and religious texts to help contextualise her account and evaluate how Kempe may have been perceived by her contemporaries (both those who witnessed her symptoms, and those who read her text). It will evaluate how Kempe presented her experiences and how they were linked to her wider identity; the wider implications of her emotional symptoms; and the connections between spiritual and physical health. Mental pain was not synonymous with illness and could be attributed to spiritual, emotional and physical causes. Religion had a significant impact on how Kempe perceived and interpreted her own experiences with mental pain. Although Kempe attributed her mental pain to different spiritual and physical causes, she used her pain to deepen her connection with God.

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