Portrait of a Holy Life: Mnemonic Inventiveness in the Book of Margery Kempe

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


After waiting 20 years to compose her book, Margery Kempe—in the 1430s—dictated the account of her life to two scribes, one of whom helped her revise. Even though Kempe claims to be illiterate, she mines her rich memory stores to frame, structure, and authorize her account. To do so, she draws on tropes, figures, exempla, character types, plot lines, and settings from biblical accounts, saints’ lives, and virgin martyr legends. Even though she was unschooled, she avidly listened to public sermons and the private instructions of her amanuensis, who read and interpreted many religious texts for her, texts whose modes and messages she recorded in her prolific memory. Drawing on the work of Mary Carruthers, accounts of Christ’s passion, and virgin martyr tales, I examine Kempe’s use of memory arts in the invention and arrangement of her heresy trial accounts.


Memory Network Religious Authority Intercessory Prayer Holy Ghost Church Authority 
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© Margaret Cotter-Lynch and Brad Herzog 2012

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