The Book of Margery Kempe

The Book of Margery Kempe, is known as the first extant spiritual autobiography in English.

Margery claims she was illiterate and 'not lettryd' and she dictated her book to scribes. It is not a chronological account of her life, but a fascinating dialogue between Margery and visions of God, Christ and the saints about faith and the meaning of a good Christian life. 
The Book ignores anything that is not primarily the story of Margery’s relationship with God and her spiritual journey. The purpose of her work is to reveal and authorise the meaning and truth she believes God had called her to follow.

The Book is divided into two parts. The first part follows in many ways follows the format of similar devotional texts of the period, particularly those by women mystics and visionaries. Through various experiences, childbirth, madness and her first vision of Christ, Margery narrates her spiritual journey which leads to her travels, and the ’gift of tears’. Margery recalls accusations of Lollardy made against her, as well as her travels to the Holy Land, Assisi, Rome, where she enters into her mystical marriage, and Santiago. She also details two great fires in Lynn. 

The second part is more like a travel journal, or memoir. It features the death of Margery's husband, John Kempe, as well as her son. Margery accompanies her daughter-in law back to Prussia. She travels on to Danzig and Aachen, finally returning to Syon Abbey.

It is clear from her Book that Margery not only has an extremely retentive memory, but that she is very familiar with other books of devotion and spirituality, the Liturgy of the Church, as well as the Bible.

In some ways Margery’s story is reminiscent of the style and genre of Augustine’s Confessions, and the story of the Conversion of St Francis of Assisi, both of which Margery probably knew well.