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    Where did Margery Kempe cry?

    Bale, Anthony (2019) Where did Margery Kempe cry? In: Barbezat, M. and Scott, A. (eds.) Fluid Bodies and Bodily Fluids in Premodern Europe: Bodies, Blood, and Tears in Literature, Theology, and Art. Arc Humanities Press. ISBN 9781641892384.

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    The Book of Margery Kempe (1436 x 1438) is a unique and crucial document for exploring medieval subjectivity. At its heart, it is a text about one person’s sensitive reactions—Kempe’s “mevynggys,” “steringgys,” “felyngys,” “peynes”—and as such it offers a hugely value account for the historian of emotions. In this essay I turn to Kempe’s tears, one of the most striking and controversial elements of her religious identity. The first modern editor of Kempe’s book, the American medievalist Hope Emily Allen, diagnosed Kempe in the 1930s with what she called “neuroticism” because of her tears. In offering this medical or quasi-medical diagnosis, Allen set the tone of much twentieth-century writing on Kempe, in which Kempe was described as suffering “post-partum psychosis,” as being “quite mad—an uncurable hysteric with a large paranoid trend,” a depressive woman going through “a manic-depressive illness,” as a “psyhotic,” as suffering from “frontal lobe epilepsy.” These assessments—given by neither qualified medical doctors nor psychiatrists—diagnose Kempe’s crying as an illness and an ailment to be explained medically or psychologically, rather than understood spiritually or rhetorically, which is how I approach it here.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Depositing User: Anthony Bale
    Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2019 11:05
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:47


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