"When this creature was twenty years of age, or somewhat more, she was married to a worshipful burgess [of Lynn] and was with child within a short time, as nature would have it."
The second book of my Well-Educated Mind Biographies Project took me to the turn of the fifteenth century when the Late Middle Ages was morphing into the Early Renaissance. Margery Kempe, a married women with 14 children decides that her devotion to God eclipses everything else in her life, and embarks on a mystical journey to get as close as she can to His Love and Grace, and to conform her life to His will. While the narrative is somewhat disjointed, springing back and forth between different episodes in Margery's life, the reader must decide: does Margery have a special relationship with God and are her actions spiritually beneficial, or is she somewhat unbalanced emotionally and do her actions have a negative impact on those around her?
While Margery speaks of her devotion to God and of the special protection and attention he sends her way, a repeated theme runs through this book of her unusually shocking weeping and crying, and how her behaviour alienates the people around her. In story after story, Margery weeps and wails in loud outbursts, a person or the people get irritated with her and, at the least, want her to stop and, at the most, want her imprisoned. Margery does show a comprehension that her behaviour sows discord with those around her, and does try to moderate her reactions, but is unable to because of the force of feeling for God in her heart; she simply cannot control her response.
Ultimately I felt that this book said as much about the society around Margery, as Margery herself. Their intolerance for anyone different than themselves, their impatience at her benign behaviour and their lust for vengeance was quite startling, yet when I compared it to our society today, how different was it really? Don't we display the same intolerance, the same prejudice and the same narrow-mindedness as the people of Margery's time? Are we exasperated or offended by people with different ideas or bothered when people behave differently than we expect? I think, if we're honest, we'd be compelled to answer "yes".
Margery's amazing perseverance in her beliefs, and her ability to remaining faithful when she is imprisoned, ostracized, mocked and threatened, are what impacted me while reading this biography. Her lack of anger and her tolerance towards her persecutors is truly heroic. While I wouldn't want to be Margery Kempe, and I didn't agree with all her decisions, I can certainly see traits within her that would be beneficial in my own life, and for that, I have a reluctant admiration for her single-minded faithfulness and unquenchable spirit.