Reading Margery Kempe’s inner voices
By Corinne Saunders and Charles Fernyhough
postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies,Vol. 8:2 (2017)
Abstract: This article draws on research from the major collaborative research project Hearing the Voice, based at Durham University, to reconsider and foreground Margery Kempe’s inner voices, and hence, to return to an emphasis on inner, spiritual experience as shaping her Book.
The richness of Margery’s multi-sensory experience, and the care with which it is depicted, is illuminated by and illuminates the experience of contemporary voice-hearers, offering a powerful alternative perspective to often reductive bio-medical understandings. Contemporary cognitive frameworks, particularly scientific accounts of inner speech, are in turn employed to open out Margery’s inner voices and to offer insights into the psychology of spiritual meditation.
Introduction: ‘It is time to read Margery Kempe’s inner voices as a projection of her own spiritual understanding of divine interaction with her, and hence as an insight into her own mentality,’ writes Barry Windeatt.
Margery’s spiritual life has been controversial since the rediscovery of her Book in 1934, which quickly demonstrated that she was far from the ‘devout ancress’ that Henry Pepwell had described her as when reprinting Wynkyn de Worde’s pamphlet based on her book in 1521. The book evoked responses emphasising Margery’s neurosis and hysteria, until it was reclaimed by feminist readers celebrating her public voice and actions; recent studies have gone further, emphasising her radical Christianity.