Date of this Version
The simplest, and yet most knotty, place to start with The Book of Margery Kempe is to ask plainly: what is it? It has most frequently been proclaimed the first autobiography in English, seemingly more as a marketing ploy than as a result of careful analysis of genre. In reality, Kempe's book occupies an uncomfortable space between first person and third person, written (and even this is problematic) by a self who calls herself "this creature." Yet it is not hagiography either. The Book falls short of the criteria of hagiography for practical reasons – to name only a few, Margery Kempe has not been canonized and she has no proper "vita," the primary criterion for which is posthumous creation. Barry Windeatt and Sarah Salih, seemingly frustrated with the Book's apparent refusal to conform to a devotional genre, have facetiously called it "autohagiography" with palpable discomfort and skepticism. "Autohagiography" proves a concept with nearly insurmountable troubles, for a number of reasons which perhaps go beyond the scope of this paper. In short, scholars have found efforts to fit Kempe's book into some wider corpus of texts tremendously problematic.
Date Posted: 03 August 2007