Study Guide

The Book of Margery Kempe Memory and the Past

By Margery Kempe

Memory and the Past

Sure, The Book of Margery Kempe is an autobiography, but remembering the past isn't the only kind of memory you'll see on these pages. In this book, memorial behavior—things like participation in pilgrimages, Masses or processions—serves as an emotional and intellectual bridge to the life of Christ. Emotional triggers also summon religious memories, like when Kempe is slandered and immediately has an intense "memory" of Christ's crucifixion.

Basically, Kempe constructs a spiritual life based on immersive participation in events long past. Everything she sees makes her thing of something that happened to Jesus—which in turn makes her cry. A lot. While her recollections of actions and relationships in her own life do exist in this narrative, they take a back seat to these complex interactions with a mystical past.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  • How does memory play a key role in Kempe's spiritual life?
  • In what ways is memory—especially verbal and visual memory—particularly important for someone like Kempe?
  • Which do you think is more important for Kempe in this narrative: her personal past, or a more "historic" one?
  • Why do you suppose Kempe only includes memories of one of her children in this narrative? Do you think it is significant that this memory is included in Book II, which was written later and added on to the bulk of her story?

Chew on This

Kempe uses memories that are not her own to enter more fully into her spiritual life.

Kempe is not primarily interested in memories of her life as a wife or mother. Instead, she's all about "universal memories" of Christ's life and death as a method of explaining her way of life and philosophy.