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IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 609: Identifying Holy and Transgressive Behaviour in Margery Kempe and Beatrice of Nazareth

Tuesday 14 July 2009, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Katherine J. Lewis, Department of History, University of Huddersfield
Paper 609-a'I come in no pulpytt': Margery Kempe's Gendered Heresy
(Language: English)
Lisa Padden, National University of Ireland, Galway
Index terms: Gender Studies, Lay Piety
Paper 609-bHoly Women and Devout Readers: Modelling Interpretive Practice in Beatrice of Nazareth and Margery Kempe
(Language: English)
Jessica Barr, Department of English, Eureka College, Illinois
Index terms: Hagiography, Language and Literature - Middle English, Language and Literature - Latin, Rhetoric
Paper 609-c'Homli' Transgressions: The Disruptive Will-To-Spiritual-Power in Margery Kempe
(Language: English)
Laurie Ringer, Department of English, Canadian University College, Alberta

These papers look at how Margery Kempe's behaviour caused uneasiness among contemporaries (leading to the charge of heresy), while the author of Beatrice's Vita seeks to control dangerous interpretations of her behaviour, in order to promote her sanctity.

Paper -a:
Margery Kempe's text and person have often been treated with mistrust by both her own contemporaries and ours. This paper will examine the various ways in which Margery Kempe's behaviour is seen to be heretical by the late medieval Church. By illuminating these examples this paper will demonstrate the reasons for these accusations against Kempe and will ultimately argue that the cause lies primarily, if not solely, in Kempe's gender. By examining Kempe's text alongside the lives of other mystics seen as 'safe' by the Church we will discover the reasons for treatment Kempe received from her community and Church.

Paper -b:
This paper argues that the author of Beatrice of Nazareth's Vita enhances his subject's sanctity by seeking to control his audience's interpretation of her behaviour. Focusing on episodes in which witnesses are said to misunderstand Beatrice's saintly activity, the author uses the disjuncture between 'good' and 'bad' readings in the hagiographic text to promote a model of interpretation that also validates the hagiographer's own interpretive practice. I conclude by exploring the ways in which Margery Kempe, whose outbursts resemble those documented by the Vita author, seeks to provide a similar - and similarly validating - interpretive model for her Book.

Paper -c:
This paper explores language in Margery Kempe's spiritually house-proud 'lytyl tretys'. Statistical evidence is drawn from a full concordance, with focus on vocabulary that is self-referential, hagiographic, and gendered. Whether referring to herself, sharing her faith, building her history, or polishing her halo, Kempe destabilizes her would-be saint's life. Margery's will-to-spiritual-power resists all but her pious agenda; this undermines and disrupts her hagiographic message. While her gender may well have unsettled male authority, including the authors of heterodox texts associated with the Lollards, perhaps the bungling irony of her naked will-to-power is the greatest cause of discomfort and transgression.