Copy to Clipboard. Add italics as necessaryCite as: Johannes Wolf, ‘Unlikely Matter: The Open and the Nomad in The Book of Margery Kempe and the Middle English Christina Mirabilis’, in Openness in Medieval Europe, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati and Almut Suerbaum, Cultural Inquiry, 23 (Berlin: ICI Berlin Press, 2022), pp. 169–89 <https://doi.org/10.37050/ci-23_09>

Unlikely MatterThe Open and the Nomad in The Book of Margery Kempe and the Middle English Christina MirabilisJohannes WolfORCID

Abstract

In The Book of Margery Kempe, the protagonist shifts between identities and geographies as a nomadic subject, dispersed across compassionate responses to violence that unusually include a recognition of animal suffering. The Life of Christina the Astonishing also seizes on the nonhuman aspects of extreme affective experience as her bodily transformations participate in a process of becoming-animal. Both texts reflect a medieval fascination with the devotional body as a zone of closure and opening where transhuman and interspecies associations can be safely explored.

Keywords: Margery Kempe; Christina Mirabilis; Rosi Braidotti; animal studies; affect theory; devotional literature; spirituality

Where the Spirit of God is, there one can be free.
That is why she flew effortlessly
With her body straight through the air,
Just like a bird that had no fear.

There is something deeply unstable, even unlikely, about being.1 As postmodern humans we carefully navigate the tightrope strung between mind and body by René Descartes, increasingly unlikely — like our medieval ancestors — to draw clear and emphatic distinctions between these two poles.2 An invitation to think about our selves as knit together, as part of our bodies rather than fundamentally apart, evokes experiences of fragility as well as exultation. If our bodies are to some degree us, then we are always already bodies: matter projected into the world without our consent as a condition for existing at all. Despite everything, we are thrown into the world, opening and extending into it.

I am convinced that the illuminator of Merton College, MS. 269 knew this as they bent over the parchment to decorate this thirteenth-century copy of Ibn Rushd’s commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics.3 The historiated initial on fol. 140v, accompanying a discussion of being that opens with ‘ens dicitur multis modis’ (‘being’ can be expressed in many different ways), depicts a seated philosopher in contemplation, sheltered by a massive capital E. Stars constellate a deep blue sky; gold-leaved flowers burst from the background as if seeded somewhere beneath the page. His right hand is raised in an interrogative gesture directed towards the object pinched carefully between the fingers of the left. The object is a visual representation of the subject of the passage — of ‘being’, ens. It rises from the philosopher’s fingers, a rounded mass of browns, greys, and greens within which channels and rivers bulge like the folds of the brain. Eight tendrils curl and reach out in all directions, as if testing, tasting, sensing the world. It bears little resemblance to anything, any thing, defying analytical distinctions and taxonomies. Its effect is to embarrass tendencies towards philosophical abstraction, insisting instead on the fundamentally fleshy and material core of ens. Being is protozoan, formless, explorative. Unrestrained, it spreads, suggesting the unlikely truths of matter.

This essay is not about Merton’s MS. 269, nor is it about Aristotelian thinking in thirteenth-century Europe. It is, however, deeply invested in thinking about questions of identity and matter — questions that lead more than one medieval artist to launch ens into the world, unstable and occasionally unformed, and into contact with other entities and lives. The art I will consider here is textual rather than visual, and operates within markedly different cultural, historical, and intellectual contexts. It is late medieval, vernacular, and religious rather than high medieval, Latin, and technical. Yet it is my contention that a pair of Middle English women’s holy lives from the fifteenth century can shed some further light on the problematics and tensions of being, thrown out and open into the world, in the Middle Ages. In their strangest and most trying of moments, the bodies of these religious women threaten to break down, break apart, and challenge fundamental distinctions that underwrite identity, agency, and species.

Witnessed by British Library, Additional MS. 61823 — identified only in 1934 — The Book of Margery Kempe describes the trials and tribulations of a fifteenth-century East Anglian laywoman of considerable means as she is driven by powerful devotional experiences into conflict with a world figured as deeply resistant to her performances.4Margery Kempe navigates relationships with her husband, goes on pilgrimages both within England and to the Continent and Holy Land, is slandered and reproved by both laypeople and religious, and is imprisoned and interrogated on suspicion of heresy. Even as she establishes important relationships with members of the Church, she remains unassimilable into the secure categories of late medieval devotional life, an indigestible element that frequently irritates the social order. The Book’s textual journey mirrored the daring adventures of its subject: known only in an orthodox and heavily redacted printed recension until 1934, the single manuscript recovered from a cupboard in a Lancashire country home by Hope Emily Allen is commonly dated to the 1440s.5 Despite Kempe’s considerable aspirations to offer ‘exempyl and instruccyon’ (example and instruction) through her own experiences (BMK, p. 41), there is little to suggest that the Book was read or copied in any systematic or widespread manner in the decades following its composition and the death of its subject. Since its rediscovery it has by contrast become firmly situated in the canon of Middle English devotional literature.6

In her irreducibility to the strict roles of the medieval religious, Margery Kempe resembles the subject of my second case study, Christina Mirabilis (the Astonishing). Born in 1150 in Brustem in modern-day Belgium, Christina’s life was recorded in a Latin Vita by the Dominican Thomas of Cantimpré and subsequently translated into both Middle Dutch and, later, Middle English — in which it is extant only in Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 114. A cowherd and the youngest of three sisters, the trajectory of Christina’s life changes dramatically when, at the age of twenty-one, ‘of inwarde exercise of contemplacyone she wex seek in bodily myghte and dyed’ (due to the inward exercise of contemplation she grew weak in bodily strength and died).7 Rather than allowing herself to be buried, however, she returns to life in spectacular fashion and engages in ever-increasing acts of contemplative and mortifying athletics in order to save the souls of her fellow Christians from Purgatory. Whilst it seems to have enjoyed some popularity during the medieval period, the Life of Christina Mirabilis has received far less critical attention than the Book of Margery Kempe, due in substantial part to scholarly embarrassment over the extremity of her miracles.8 Despite their differences, in their insular forms both texts, then, would have resonated with an increasingly literate and spiritually ambitious vernacular readership — one for whom being in the world remained an unavoidable fact of existence, and for whom religiosity entailed a committed openness to finding God in the wider world: in the streets of cities and in their fellow living beings. They offer models of an ens thrown into the world — unstable, fragile, and exploratory.

Margery Kempe’s affective piety is marked by a pair of somatic responses to the images and echoes of Christ’s life and Passion: ‘krying and roryng’ (crying and roaring; BMK, p. 163). Visual signs of God’s grace working through her, these powerful and involuntary responses scandalize her companions, interrupt sermons, and prompt accusations of possession and mental illness (BMK, pp. 151, 288, 186). The effects of her devotional practice reject the outwardly demure trajectory of the enclosed contemplative, reaching out laterally into the social order in gestures of uncontrolled and uncontrollable openness to the world. The continued eruption of her self into the wider world is the key thread of the Book’s narrative, as the moment at which she gains the ‘gift’ of roaring makes clear. Whilst on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, Kempe ascends to Calvary and the site of Christ’s execution. There,

sche fel down that sche mygth not stondyn ne knelyn, but walwyd and wrestyd wyth hir body, spredyng hir armys abrode, and cryed wyth a lowde voys as thow hir hert schulde a brostyn asundyr, for in the cite of hir sowle sche saw veryly and freschly how owyr Lord was crucifyed. Beforn hir face sche herd and saw in hir gostly sygth the morning of owyr Lady. (BMK, p. 163)

(she fell down so that she might not stand or kneel, but rolled and wrestled with her body, spreading her arms out wide, and cried with a loud voice as though her heart would break in half, because in the city of her soul she saw truly and vividly how our Lord was crucified. Before her face she heard and saw in her spiritual sight the mourning of our Lady.)

As it contorts into a cruciform symbol her body loses its coherence as a body, becoming an indistinct entity with which Kempe rolls and wrestles — although the proposition ‘wyth’, in Middle English as in Modern English, allows us to speculate whether she wrestles against it or is in some sense complicit in it, embroiled in an intimate exploration of a being becoming un-stuck. Walwen — ‘to roll’ — is a verb associated with the surge of the sea and the rising of the winds; there is a storm brewing within the collapsing Kempe.9 It is ‘as if’ her heart would ‘a brostyn asunder’, an intensity of grief that plays out in the breaking and shattering of her body, wracked by pain and wounding. As the passage shifts to the lexicon of the immaterial vision, the material echoes of these experiences linger, stressing the tension at the heart of ‘the cite of hir sowle’. The standard defensive gestures of contemplative writing — the text stresses that she sees ‘veryly’ (truly) in her ‘gostly syght’ (spiritual sight) — are deployed to distance the following clauses from the wild and unbounded ens, but it is too little too late. What she sees ‘[b]iforn her face’ (in front of her face) remains ‘fresch’ — vivid, sensory, and embodied. Kempe’s heart contains cities, multitudes of people, gathered to watch the death of God. It is no wonder that it threatens to break under the pressure.

On her return from Palestine, Kempe finds affective triggers everywhere she turns. Her heart remains broken; in fact, it continues to break in an ongoing experience of emotional trauma which cannot even begin to settle and metamorphose into grief. Whilst overcome simultaneously by anguish and love in Rome, she responds to the inquiries of concerned Italians with ‘the Passyon of Christ sleyth me!’ (the Passion of Christ slays me!; BMK, p. 209), the insistently present tense of her declaration suspending the normal trajectory of time in an eternal present of desire and pain.10 Later in the Book, a perplexed priest at St Stephen’s in Norwich responds to her cries with ‘Damsel, Jhesu is ded long sithyn’ (Damsel, Jesus has been dead for a long time), to which she responds — fiercely, doctrinally — ‘Sir, hys deth is as fresch to me as he had deyd this same day, and so me thynkyth it awt to be to yow and to alle Cristen pepil’ (Sir, his death is as fresh to me as if he had died today, and I think it should be so to you and to all Christian people; BMK, p. 286). She does not, cannot, begin to process the Passion as loss, a process by which she might re-constitute her self. Reminders of the Passion are everywhere in her life, thorns that snag on her thin exterior and tear new wounds and openings into her, through which her interiority comes spilling out in cries and roars. Sermons, statues, children, dolls (BMK, pp. 286, 287, 191, 177): all of these trigger the storms of cries and tears that typify her performances. Margery Kempe is projected constantly into a world — both material and salvific — to which she is undeniably open, even porous; her exclamations and tears only further demonstrate the fluid nature of this subjectivity.

In other words: Kempe fragments. As she extends across times and places and sounds and tears, she stretches, pulls apart, threatens to disperse. She does not, however, break or cease to exist — rather, she seems to represent in her vertiginous openings to the world a version of what Rosi Braidotti refers to as ‘nomadic becomings’. Braidotti describes this kind of becoming as an activation, a switch in perceptive mode:

In those moments of floating awareness when rational control releases its hold, ‘Life’ rushes on towards the sensorial/perceptive apparatus with exceptional vigour and higher degrees of definition. This onrush of data, information and affectivity is the relational bond that simultaneously propels the self out of the black hole of its atomised isolation and disperses it into a myriad of bits and pieces of data imprinting or impressions.11

Margery Kempe reverberates with the energy of this sort of becoming. She is a self propelled outwards of herself into a world whose effects she experiences not merely differently to others but more intensely; her internal world balances on the precipice of affect and ‘Life’. Braidotti goes on to argue that ‘[o]ne needs to be able to sustain the impact with the onrushing affectivity to “hold” it, without being completely overwhelmed by it’.12 For Kempe this ‘holding’ takes the form of a reverberation or forwarding of the experience, like the transmission of electric charge that must be released in order to avoid a short circuit, a blown affective fuse. What she sees and hears overwhelms by definition her subjective boundaries and so instead arcs out in cries and tears and forms that will not, cannot be controlled.13 A world knit together by divine suffering is a world that disperses the subject that comes to know it back into the wilds, out of her own body and into the circuits of transmission, echo, and displacement that await.

Kempe’s opponents wish most specifically for her to close the openings this gesture threatens to produce — through marriage, imprisonment, perhaps holy orders. These desires are summarized best by the irate Canterbury monk who tells Kempe: ‘I wold thow wer closyd in an hows of ston, that ther schuld no man speke wyth the’ (I wish you were enclosed in a house of stone, so that no man could speak with you there; BMK, p. 93). His specific desire is for her to be immured in stone, imprisoned or perhaps in a cell attached to a church as an anchoress, but the undertones of this declaration are more universal, reflecting a generalized anxiety about the movement and freedom of the female body — a body considered peculiarly physiologically open.14 This Canterbury monk wishes Kempe’s endlessly capacious extension into the world controlled and minimized, wishes that her body be rooted and literally closed to the multiple states and becomings it performs. The Book of Margery Kempe is, of course, a testament to the failure of this individual and the programme he represents — instead of allowing herself to be grounded, Kempe takes flight.

Immediately following her experiences at Calvary, the Book gives an overview of the typical trajectory of Kempe’s affective responses. In the process of sketching out the general imprint of these events, however, the text offers a highly unusual and potentially destabilizing target for compassionate feeling. Whilst the Passion is one common trigger for ‘the crying’, there are others:

And sumtyme, whan sche saw the crucyfyx, er yf sche sey a man had a wownde er a best whethyr it wer, er yyf a man bett a childe befor hir, er smet an hors er another best wyth a whippe, yyf sche myth sen it er heryn it, hir thowt sche saw owyr Lord be betyn er wowndyd, lyk as sche saw in the man er in the best, as wel in the feld as in the town, and be hirselfe [a]lone as wel as among the pepyl. (BMK, p. 164)

(And sometimes, when she saw the crucifix or if she saw a man had a wound or if a beast had one, or if a man beat a child in front of her, or struck a horse or another beast with a whip, if she could see or hear it, she thought she saw our Lord be beaten or wounded, just as she saw the man or the beast, in both the field and the town, and by herself as well as in company.)

This description appears at first to chart the usual direction of Kempe’s visionary moments as recently charted by Julie Orlemanski: she moves from the specific earthly situation — a confrontation with a crucifix, or an image of a body in pain — to the divine realities it signifies.15 Yet here Kempe circles back almost immediately to the world; the image of Christ in ‘hir thowt’ is traced back to the phenomena she ‘myth sen […] er heryn’ in her immediate surroundings. This structure complicates the movement of contemplative thought, which turns from the mundane things and directs itself up towards the divine. Here the structure of Kempe’s own narrative draws us back almost immediately into the sights and sounds of the world — and, in particular, to a recognition of animal suffering. Lisa J. Kiser has noted that this passage is an unusual example of the ‘animalisation’ of Christ — the comparison of the suffering son of God with the humility of suffering nonhumans, a common motif in its own right — as it proceeds from the suffering body to Christ, rather than using the animal body as a metaphor for Christ.16 This change of semiotic direction is important. Within the narrative of the Book this animal suffering is emphatically real; it exists in the texture of the story as a fact and a body every bit as weighty as those of the humans with whom Kempe interacts. The Book’s fierce insistence on the relevance of the material and domestic world is at the centre of this moment, offering these injured animals a rare moment of visibility as suffering, living things.17 Kempe’s unusual approach gives these animal bodies a weight and presence that is not contained or nullified by metaphor: they appear as suffering, bleeding entities that refuse to be assimilated entirely into the symbolic order.

The total effect of Kempe’s visionary mode, which is tuned here to recognize and respond to the bare fact of suffering, is to reveal a network of violent acts that extends across species. In so doing it effectively suspends, at least for a moment, the gestures of distinction and categorization that regulate definitions of humanity and animality — distinctions that now run under the watchword ‘species’.18 Kempe sees only wounds, openings of the body which invite her compassionate devotional responses. The specifics of the body — age, gender, species — are secondary, becoming lost as she extends her list enthusiastically. These bodies lack ‘organs’ in the sense introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari:

the body without organs is opposed less to organs as such than to organisation of the organs insofar as it composes an organism. The body without organs is not a dead body but a living body all the more alive and teeming once it has blown apart the organism and its organisation.19

Resisting the contained organizational structure of the ‘organism’ and the distinctions upon which it rests, this scene for a moment invites simply a procession of wounds and suffering whose investments refuse to be closed off, migrating instead across affective and species boundaries. The nomadic ens (so explicitly without organs) becomes visible here once again, reaching out irrepressibly for new connections and new associations. These bodies without species call us to attention, and demand access to an ethical order from which they are excluded at the very moment that they are constituted as animal — i.e. as not human.

If the Book proffers an invitation to this ethical order, it does not sustain it. Lisa J. Kiser ends her discussion of this passage optimistically, suggesting that it places animal suffering in ‘a broader and more meaningful context’ than is common in the medieval period.20 Yet a wider exploration of the roles nonhuman animals perform in the Book offers little to suggest that the implications of this moment are activated in any lasting sense. Kempe’s journeys and adventures are studded by animals whose presence, use, and subjugation is effortless. Horses are used for transportation from Leicester to Melton Mowbray (BMK, p. 240). Kempe rides a donkey on pilgrimage, nearly falling off her animal companion in a sudden devotional fervour; this time there is no indication that she recognizes the animal’s state (BMK, p. 161). Even her oft-cited description of herself as a ‘creature’ serves only to reinforce the position of the nonhuman animal at the bottom of the species hierarchy. These passages indicate an entirely unexceptional relationship to nonhuman animals; their bodies are available as the unconsidered raw material for pilgrimage, narrative, and signification.

There is only one other sustained mention of animal cruelty in The Book. The contrast between these two moments, however, could not be starker. Restored by grace from the state of despair with which her text begins, Kempe at first refuses to ‘leevyn hir pride’ (leave her pride; BMK, p. 57), deciding instead to engage in a series of business ventures. One of them involves a horse mill.

Sche gat hire tweyn good hors and a man to gryndyn mennys corne, and thus sche trostyd to getyn hir levyng. […] Thys man […] toke on of this hors and put hym in the mylle as he had don before, and this hors wold drawe no drawt in the mylle for nothing the man mygth do. The man was sory and asayd wyth al hys wyttys how he schuld don this hors drawyn. Sumtyme he led hym be the heed, sumtyme he beet hym, and sumtyme he chershyd hym, and alle avayled not, for her wold rather gon bakward than forward. Than this man sett a scharp peyr sporys on hys helys and rood on the hors bak for to don hym drawyn, and it was nevyr the bettyr. (BMK, pp. 59–60)

(She got herself two good horses and a man to grind corn for people, and thus she planned to make a living. […] This man […] took one of the horses and put him in the mill as he had done before, but this horse would not pull despite anything he tried. The man was vexed and applied all his wits to figuring out how to get this horse to pull. Sometimes he led him by the head, sometimes he beat him, and sometimes he treated him well, and none of these things helped, for he would rather go backward than forward. Then this man put a sharp pair of spurs on his heels and rode on the horse’s back to make him pull, but nothing would improve the situation.)

This horse is nothing more than a prop. The violence mounted upon its body is described in a clarity whose claim to objectivism renders invisible the suffering to which Kempe will later find herself so surprisingly open. The beating of the animal passes by without remark, whilst the ‘sharp peyr sporys’ — which must have caused considerable damage — are simply listed as one of a number of failed attempts to get the horse moving. Any possibility of nonhuman agency is elided as this recalcitrant horse’s rebellion is represented as a punishment from God — a ‘merveyl’ (marvel/miracle; BMK, p. 60) that robs this animal of its force. Pain, thick and sticky to Kempe in chapter 28, is invisible, denied the affective opportunities of sight and sound.

A more expansive interrogation of the Book, then, implies a rather bleak picture, which agrees with Karl Steel’s argument that Kempe’s compassion is ‘not […] for animals so much as it is for injuries in general, whether animals or human’.21 For Steel, Kempe’s momentary association with animals is enabled by the conceptual linkage of the female human body with the animal body through the medieval concept of the ‘flesh’. Her rejection of meat and momentary association with animals is to be understood as a method of ‘mastering the flesh by other means’, an enactment of superiority through the ‘elaborate management and refinement of the satisfactions of abstinence’.22 Under this reading Kempe supplies ‘[a]ll the affective elements that we might think necessary for the development of animal rights […] yet all they do is exacerbate the need to encounter suffering animals’.23 Nonhuman pain is scripted into the devotional world as a side of perverse enjoyment and reflection; there is no shift towards a politicized compassion that argues for a minimizing of suffering or an assertion of anything that could be called animal rights. This reading suggests that in the Book, animal pain is understood only a useful canvas for human pain; its existence is helpful, necessary even, to the extent that it allows us to reflect on our own suffering. This is a paternalistic approach that dismisses the ethical validity of nonhuman suffering as suffering: it is the compassion of hierarchy.

My reading of The Book of Margery Kempe has to some extent confirmed the investments of this text in this hierarchy; it cannot be taken as formulating a clear argument for animal rights. Kempe is not unusual in this regard; in this capacity, at least, the Book is for once unexceptional. Yet I find myself unable — or unwilling — to commit entirely to this reading. Beyond the ideological account, the cause of this chapter I am writing still exists: chapter 28 of the Book, with its plainly suffering animals, waiting to stir. Kempe’s compassionate gesture — gathering together children, men, and beasts — struck and moved me on first reading; it still does. It is a moment that transforms the Book and adds an unintentional new story to the varied tales it tells: a story of subjugation, exploitation, and pain to which animals are party as themselves. This is a story that would have remained invisible to me had Kempe not gestured, briefly, at a horizon she could not overcome — a horizon that is nonetheless breached, and remains open. Even if, this time, Kempe’s body is ‘closyd’ off from others, the text is not, not fully. Turning now to Christina Mirabilis, I will situate this experience of flight and closure tentatively and provisionally in the textual body of the unenclosed female contemplative.

Unlike Kempe, Christina actually flies. She literalizes metaphor. She begins her life already entangled with animals; the third of three sisters, she is assigned ‘to keep hir bestes on the felde that wente to pasture’ (to keep her beasts that went to pasture on the field; CM, p. 53). Christina’s transformation begins after her death, brought on by ‘inwarde exercise of contemplacyone’ (inward contemplative exercise; CM, p. 54); once brought to the church and laid on the bier before her friends and sisters, the scene is set.

And while the Masse was in doynge for hir soule, sodey[n]ly the body sterid and roos vp in the bere and anoon lifte vp, as a bridde, steigh into the beemes of the kyrke.

Then alle that were [there] fledde and hir eldist sister [alone] bode still with drede. And she abode in the kyrke roufe vnmoued tille the Messe was doon. (CM, pp. 54–55)

(And whilst the Mass for her soul was in progress, the body suddenly stirred and rose up on the bier and then lifted up, like a bird, straight to the beams of the church.

Then all that were there fled, apart from her eldest sister, who remained there in dread. And she stayed still in the roof of the church until the Mass was done.)

Christina rises from the grave and keeps going — up into the rafters to join the grotesques and saints that people the eaves and corners of the church, whose petrification she seems to mirror. She has, it transpires, travelled through Purgatory to ‘the trone of Goddes mageste’ (the throne of God’s majesty), where she has been offered the choice: stay with God in heaven, or ‘turne ageyne to body’ (return again to her body) to deliver through her own painful experiences souls from Purgatory and into heaven (CM, p. 56). Christina, of course, makes the saintly choice and is resuscitated by divine grace — to the surprise and fear of her community. She returns with a sanctified body, one equipped to resist the tortures of Purgatory which she will actualize in the world. She throws herself into ovens and is spun by the wheels of mills; she lies in graves and hangs herself with condemned criminals (CM, pp. 59, 60). Her body returns, unmarked, from these and other contortions, a living ‘ensaumple […] to stire men to repentauns and penauns’ (example […] to stir men to repentance and penance; CM, p. 56).

Beyond this exemplarity, however, lie other reverberations, other ‘becomings’. For as Christina sheds her mortal body, she sheds her securely human status too. As she rises to the rafters of the church roof, she does so ‘as a bridde’ (like a bird), in the first of several gestures towards nonhuman existence. As Christina’s new life unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that ‘the soteltee of hir spirite lothed the taste and sauoure of mennes bodyes’ (the keenness of her spirit hated the taste and flavour of human bodies; CM, p. 55). As human society turns her stomach, she turns to a different mode of existence: ‘Cristyn fledde the presens of folke with a wonder lothinge into wildernesse and into trees, into the coppys of tourys of chirches or of othere hye thinges’ (with great disgust Christina fled the presence of people into the wilderness and into trees, into the turrets of church towers or into other high things; CM, p. 57). The text is at pains to demonstrate that such activities are not agential, or at least rational; the disgust Christina experiences as ‘lothinge’ is affective and overwhelming, whilst the very conditions of her new body seem to necessitate behaviour that launches her body from its humanity:

Hire body was so sotil and lighte that she wente in hyghe thynges and, as a bredde, hengyd in ful smale twigges of trees. And whanne she wolde preye, she was constreyned to flee into tree coppys or touris or into othere summe hygh thinges that she, so beynge allone fro alle folke, myghte fynde riste of hire spirite. (CM, p. 61)

(Her body was so subtle and light that she went into high things and, as a bird, hung in the tiny twigs of trees. And when she wished to pray she was forced to flee into treetops or towers or into other high things so that she, so being alone from all people, might find rest for her spirit.)

Christina’s actions are determined by the ‘sotil’ and ‘light’ state of her new body, a finely tuned existence that has been rendered newly sensitive to the world around her. Her responses are not, strictly speaking, voluntary — she is ‘constreyned’, forced, to take literal flight and find the peace of wild things. These are necessary reactions to a newly tuned existence, a body opened to the horror and potential of the world: generative and disgusting in the same breath, a teeming intensity of life unveiled when Christina consumes alms presented to her by sinners: ‘hit semyd to hir that she yeet the bowellis of paddokes or of todes or the guttis of neddirs’ (it seemed to her that she ate the bowels of frogs or toads or the guts of snakes; CM, p. 66). Like Kempe, Christina is an open body, presented to a world whose effects she experiences as a headlong rush — Braidotti’s (Woolf’s) ‘Life’.24

Where Kempe’s boundlessly compassionate gaze momentarily renders human and animals confused, Christina’s experience engulfs her in a continuous mode of becoming that flitters between species. In a Life that runs to just over seven hundred lines, she is compared to a bird on five occasions. Occasionally she becomes aquatic, once staying ‘vndir the water of the flode of Moyse […] sex dayes or more’ (under the water of the Meuse river […] for six days or longer) — ‘as a fyshe’ (as a fish), as the text later stresses (CM, pp. 60, 64). She fixes her own clothes with shreds of the natural world, using ‘noon othere threde but […] the barke of a tree that is called Tilia or with wykers of salow or with prickes of wode’ (with no other thread but […] the bark of a tree called the lime tree or with willow branches or with thorns of wood; CM, p. 67). At midnight she stirs up the dogs of St Trond and runs ‘fast byfore hem as a best’ (fast before them as a beast), and is driven by them ‘thurgh buskes and brerys and thikke thornes’ (through bushes and briars and thick thorns; CM, p. 61). Christina has become something other — but never completely so, never entirely abjected or contained by a single position, an unfinished process that ‘is neither the swinging of the pendulum of dialectical opposition, nor […] the unfolding of an essence in a teleologically ordained process’, but rather ‘the process of affirmation of the unalterably positive structure of difference, unhinged from the binary’.25 This unhinged, open, endlessly possible ens is made most visible by Christina during periods of deep devotional activity:

And efte soone whan she prayed and Goddes grace of contemplacyone come to hir […] alle hir membrys were closed togedir on a lumpe, nor there myghte nothinge be perceyued of hir but allonly a rownde gobet. And after that spirituel felynge, whan the actuel felynges come to her kynde ageyne, in the maner of an vrychyn, the lumped body yode to the owne shappe and strekyd oute the membrys that were firste stoken vnder an vnlikely mater and forme. (CM, pp. 61–62)

(And as soon as she prayed and God’s grace of contemplation came to her […] all her limbs shrunk together into a lump, and nothing might be seen of her apart from a round gobbet. And after that spiritual experience, when the material feelings returned to their natural disposition again, in the manner of a hedgehog, the rounded body transformed to its own shape and stretched out the limbs that were before hidden under an unlikely matter and form.)

Affected by the force and power of God’s grace, Christina’s body shifts and changes into a single ‘gobbet’, an indistinct rounded shape — the ‘vnlikely mater and forme’ of a self transforming under the pressure of the divine. She comes to mirror the protozoan entity of Merton College, MS. 269, a star of purely living flesh without organs. Christina’s ‘kynde’ — her essential nature, the properties essential to her as ens — is placed at the centre of this passage as the fulcrum around which it turns. Grace transforms her, and only the return of ‘actuel felynges’ to her ‘kynde’ prompts a return to her normal shape. Even as she extends out into the world again, however, she does so ‘in the maner of an vrychyn’: in the manner of a hedgehog, a becoming-animal at exactly the moment that her ‘kynde’ offers an opportunity for normalcy and stability.

Christina’s contemporaries, like Kempe’s, respond with discomfort — but they are notably more enthusiastic in their persecutions. They become her hunters and jailors, and she is ‘soghte, founden, and taken of hir freendys and tyed with yren chaynes’ (sought, found, and taken by her friends and bound in iron chains) on a variety of occasions (CM, p. 58); at their most desperate, her community even employ a ‘ful wicked and ful strange man’ (a very wicked and cruel man), who promptly chases her down and breaks her leg (CM, p. 63). It is only once Christina’s breasts miraculously produce a healing oil whilst imprisoned that her captors recognize the error of their ways and ‘leet hire go’ (let her go; CM, p. 64). Her freedom is, however, short-lived. Her continued performances and acts of generalized penance result in a growing reputation and, in turn, in ever-growing crowds that travel from afar to ‘see miracles and meruales of God in Cristyne’ (to see the miracles and marvels of God in Christine; CM, p. 64). The religious of St Trond respond with considerable anxiety to this development, praying to God to intervene lest the marvellous eruptions of Christina ‘turne beestly myndes of men into wikkyd wirkynge’ (turn the bestial minds of humans to wickedness; CM, p. 64). Their prayers reflect a widespread medieval concern with the veracity and potentially demonic sources of the disturbing phenomena described as ‘meruales’ in Middle English, but the text also suggests a fear that the unstable, ‘nomadic’ resonances of Christina’s ens — which reverberate on the frequency of animality — might harmonize with the ‘beestly’ within us all.26 It seems that God agrees and, in chapter 14 — titled ‘How hire lyfe was temperid to men’ (How her life was moderated for humans) — acts.

And so it fel vpon a daye that she, stirid of spirite ful hougely, ranne to a chirche in a towne that is callid Wellen and, fyndynge the fonte stoon open, she plonged hirselfe alle therein. And with that, as it is seyde, she gate there that fro then forthe the menere of hire lyfe was more tempyrde to men. (CM, p. 65)

(And so it happened one day that she, greatly stirred in her spirit, ran to church in a town called Wellen and, finding the font open, plunged herself entirely into it. And with that, as it is said, she did that so that from then on the manner of her life was more moderated for humans.)

Driven by God and the demands of her community, Christina immerses herself in the font at Wellen, effectively re-enacting her baptism as a symbolic re-entry to a society conditioned by limits and closure. The dynamics of this shift are wrapped up in the Middle English verb tempren, translated here (following Brown) as ‘moderated’. It is a verb connected intimately with ameliorative or regulative behaviour, bringing together a wide variety of technical, scientific, and normative interventions, including the mixture of substances and solutions; the balancing of water temperature, airflow, and the humours; the punishment of ethical deviants; the adjustment of pathological or unsociable behaviour; and the appropriate tuning of instruments.27 Folded at the centre of these proliferating meanings is a newly curbed and finely tuned Christina, a wild and nomadic ens that has been restrained, softened, balanced, regulated, and ultimately ‘disciplined’: brought into better harmony with the closed and violent world of humans.

The closure demonstrated so clearly by the Life of Christina Mirabilis allows for a clearer reading of the reassertion of species lines in The Book of Margery Kempe. Both texts hold the slowly germinating seeds of another way of becoming. Neither text can actualize these dormancies, generative and viral as they are. Yet this does not mean that they do not exist — nor that the contexts that produce them are not important. In The Posthuman, Rosi Braidotti writes that

[t]hese rebellious concepts [of posthuman association] for me are related to the feminist consciousness of what it means to be female. As such, I am a she-wolf, a breeder that multiplies cells in all directions; I am incubator and a carrier of vital and lethal viruses; I am mother-earth, the generator of the future. […] The becoming-posthuman speaks to my feminist self, partly because my sex, historically speaking, never quite made it into full humanity, so my allegiance to that category is at best negotiable and never to be taken for granted.28

As medieval women, both Margery Kempe and Christina Mirabilis are ancestors of Braidotti’s, bodies and selves for whom membership of the category of ‘full humanity’ involved an endless labour of assertion, doomed to result only in fragile and temporary acceptance at the edge of a phallogocentric hierarchy. Perched on the edge of full being, however, both Kempe and Christina change. Their toes lengthen to talons and feathers sprout from their skin. Braidotti’s point shines through in both Kempe’s Book and Christina’s Life: as controlled, subjugated, and dehumanized selves, these women find themselves flickering on the edge of animality.29 As holy women in the world, they frustrate their contemporaries and worry institutional structures. As bodies thrown out into a world whose vital onrush only they can feel, both Kempe and Christina gesture to a form of openness and becoming utterly unavailable to a ratiocinative order premised on control, limit, and barrier: the vulnerable and exploratory ens, being qua being. Their texts, themselves a composite and gendered play of clerical control and contemplative authority, trend towards orthodoxy and closure — but recuperation remains a constant, verdant possibility.

Writing on the narratives of Douce 114, Vincent Gillespie has remarked that they represent ‘a shift of genre […]. Narrative is winning out over theology: the text will not engage in theological evaluation; religious actions speak louder than theological words.’30 This structure is nowhere more obvious than in the tense dynamics I have explored here; the narrative thrust of passages and moments in both books threatens to run, expand, and burst from their orthodox containers. Both texts are explicitly designed to be exemplary: Kempe’s Book authorizes itself with the claim that ‘[a]lle the werkys of ower Saviowr ben for ower exempyl and instruccyon, and what grace that he werkyth in any creatur is ower profyth’ (all the works of our Saviour are examples for us and for our instruction, and the grace that he works in any creature is our profit; BMK, p. 41); Thomas of Cantimpré ends his text with a purgatorial charge: ‘Take heed therfore, thou reder, how mykel wee be bounden that see Cristyn haue suffryd so many turmentys […]. And we dreed to do penauns for oure selfe and for oure synnes’ (Take heed, therefore, you reader, how many people we may be indebted to, having seen Christina suffer so many torments […]. And we dread to do penance for ourselves and our sins; CM, p. 83). Orlemanski has astutely observed that part of the function of exempla is ‘to show the aesthetics of emplotment acting on bodies as personae are made to suffer and embody ideological imperatives’; they are ideology acting on the narrative plane.31 Yet if Kempe and Christina are representations of ideology, channelling lessons about Christ’s Passion and the doctrine of Purgatory, then their very existence in and as narrative complicates their reception. Their stories, episodic and daring, hold special velocities that escape their intended use. Where an effective exemplum might be short and efficient, these texts dilate, reach out, extend in unusual directions to make unstable connections and strange associations. They demonstrate a deeply textual ens, generous and distributed and vital. Their reach is unstoppable. We, as readers, may choose to take Christina’s own practice as a metaphor for the act of interpretation itself, as an invitation to seize trembling and unlikely affinities, to run with wolves, and to fly:

Then hire spirite felynge that she was closed and stoken in the celar, she toke a stoon of the celare flore and in an houge spirite she made the walle thurgh. And as an arowe that euere the faster it is streyned in the bow, the strenger it fleeth, euen so hir spirit artyd abouen right with the selfe body of verrey fleshe, as hit is seide, flowe forth as a briddge in the eyre. (CM, p. 63)

(Then, her spirit recognizing that she was enclosed and restrained in the cellar, she took a stone from the cellar floor and with mighty strength she threw it through the wall. And like the arrow that flies more forcefully the stronger it is pulled by the bow, just so her spirit, pulling upward her own fleshly body, as it is said, flew forth as a bird in the air.)

Notes

  1. The epigraph is from Sinte Kerstina heiligen leven, lines 611–14, quoted following Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe, trans. by Myra Heerspink Scholz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), p. 12. Early gestures towards this chapter were presented at the ‘Openness in Medieval Culture’ symposium at the ICI Berlin in June 2019, and I wish to thank all attendees for a stimulating and truly interdisciplinary environment in which to think. I am also thankful for the readership, suggestions, and occasions of conversation provided by Annie Sutherland and Ruth Evans. Finally, I wish to thank Laura Varnam for introducing me to Margery Kempe nine years ago and for remaining a constant source of inspiration for new approaches to her strange and wonderful Book.
  2. Caroline Walker Bynum famously argues that this ‘psychosomatic unity’ is ‘bequeathed by the Middle Ages to the modern world’ (The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 11).
  3. The historiated initial discussed below was originally shared by Tuija Ainonen on Twitter, 29 October 2019 <https://twitter.com/AinonenT/status/1189094061493407744> [accessed 8 January 2020].
  4. Quotations from the text will be taken from The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. by Barry Windeatt (Cambridge: Brewer, 2000), and will be accompanied by in-text parenthetical citations marked BMK.
  5. Perhaps the most extensive treatment of the Book’s textual history appears in Julie A. Chappell, Perilous Passages: The Book of Margery Kempe, 1534–1934 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); on the historical context of the discovery, see also David Wallace, Strong Women: Life, Text, and Territory, 1347–1645 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 61–132. Anthony Bale has identified the likely scribe of Additional MS. 61823 as Richard Salthouse, a Benedictine monk at Norwich Cathedral (‘Richard Salthouse of Norwich and the Scribe of The Book of Margery Kempe’, Chaucer Review, 52.2 (2017), pp. 173–87).
  6. It has become so only through the hard work of generations of feminist medieval scholars, whose urgent correctives were and continue to be salutary to the field as a whole. Key interventions include Sarah Beckwith, ‘A Very Material Mysticism: The Medieval Mysticism of Margery Kempe’, in Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology and History, ed. by David Aers (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1986), pp. 34–57; Karma Lochrie, Margery Kempe and the Translations of the Flesh (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991); Lynn Staley, Margery Kempe’s Dissenting Fictions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994). Milestone essay collections are Margery Kempe: A Book of Essays, ed. by Sandra McEntire (London: Garland, 1992), and A Companion to the Book of Margery Kempe, ed. by John Arnold and Katherine J. Lewis (Woodbridge: Brewer, 2004); new approaches and perspectives are forthcoming in Encountering the Book of Margery Kempe, ed. by Laura Varnam and Laura Kalas Williams (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2022).
  7. ‘The Middle English Life of Christina Mirabilis by Thomas of Cantimpré’, in Three Women of Liège: A Critical Edition of and Commentary on the Middle English Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis, and Marie d’Oignies, ed. by Jennifer N. Brown (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), pp. 51–84 (p. 54). Subsequent quotations will be taken from this edition and accompanied by in-text parenthetical citations marked CM.
  8. Modern critical unease is discussed in Alicia Spencer-Hall, ‘The Horror of Orthodoxy: Christina Mirabilis, Thirteenth-Century “Zombie” Saint’, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, 8.3 (2017), pp. 352–75.
  9. Middle English Dictionary, ed. by Robert E. Lewis and others, online edition in Middle English Compendium, ed. by Frances McSparran and others (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2000–18), s.v. ‘walwen v.’, sense 4a <https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary/MED51618/> [accessed 21 March 2020]. Jeffrey J. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), pp. 154–87, discusses the ‘becoming-liquid’ of Kempe.
  10. Kempe is, in Carolyn Dinshaw’s words, ‘a creature not merely in another time but rather with another time in her’ (How Soon Is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), pp. 105–28 (p. 107)).
  11. Rosi Braidotti, ‘Intensive Genre and the Demise of Gender’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 13.2 (2008), pp. 45–57 (p. 46).
  12. Ibid.
  13. See also Julie Orlemanski, who describes Kempe’s cries as a form of ‘distributed expressivity’ (‘Margery’s “Noyse” and Distributed Expressivity’, in Voice and Voicelessness in Medieval Europe, ed. by Irit Ruth Kleiman (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), pp. 123–38 (p. 130)).
  14. See especially Lochrie, Translations of the Flesh.
  15. Orlemanski, ‘Margery’s “Noyse”’, pp. 132–33.
  16. Lisa J. Kiser, ‘Margery Kempe and the Animalisation of Christ: Animal Cruelty in Late Medieval England’, Studies in Philology, 106.3 (2009), pp. 299–315 (p. 314).
  17. David Lavinsky has provided an important caveat to readings of The Book as unquestioningly devoted to material mysticism (‘“Speke to me be thowt”: Affectivity, Incendium Amoris, and the Book of Margery Kempe’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 112.3 (2013), pp. 340–64).
  18. The study of animals and their representation in the Middle Ages is a growing field. See, for instance, Jeffrey J. Cohen, ‘Inventing Animals in the Middle Ages’, in Engaging with Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. by Barbara A. Hanawalt, Lisa J. Kiser, and Julie Berger Hochstrasser (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), pp. 39–64; Karl Steel, How to Make a Human: Animals & Violence in the Middle Ages (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011); Bruce Holsinger, ‘Of Pigs and Parchment: Medieval Studies and the Coming of the Animal’, in PMLA, 124.2 (2009), pp. 616–23; Sarah Kay, ‘Legible Skins: Animals and the Ethics of Medieval Reading’, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, 2.1 (2011), pp. 13–32.
  19. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012), p. 34.
  20. Kiser, ‘Animalisation of Christ’, p. 315.
  21. Karl Steel, ‘Animals and Violence: Medieval Humanism, “Medieval Brutality”, and the Carnivorous Vegetarianism of Margery Kempe’, in The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History, ed. by Hilda Kean (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 1650–1716 (p. 1686) <https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429468933-21>
  22. Ibid., pp. 1689, 1678.
  23. Ibid., p. 1687.
  24. Braidotti, ‘Intensive Genre’, p. 46.
  25. Ibid.
  26. On the culture of miracles, see Stephen Justice, ‘Did the Middle Ages Believe in their Miracles?’, Representations, 103 (2008), pp. 1–30.
  27. Middle English Dictionary, s.v. ‘tempren v.’, senses 1a, 1b, 2a, 4a, 5a, 6a, 7a, 8a, 8b, 10b <https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary/MED44748/> [accessed 21 March 2020].
  28. Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), pp. 80–81.
  29. Steel, ‘Animals and Violence’, p. 1686, makes a similar argument about Kempe, although as we have seen his conclusions are rather different.
  30. Vincent Gillespie, ‘Religious Writing’, in The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English: To 1550, ed. by Roger Ellis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 234–83.
  31. Julie Orlemanski, Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Medicine, and Causation in the Literature of Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), p. 139.

References

Primary Sources

  1. Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. by Barry Windeatt (Cambridge: Brewer, 2000)
  2. Thomas of Cantimpré, ‘The Middle English Life of Christina Mirabilis by Thomas of Cantimpré’, in Three Women of Liège: A Critical Edition and Commentary on the Middle English Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis and Marie d’Oignies, ed. by Jennifer N. Brown (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), pp. 51–84 <https://doi.org/10.1484/M.MWTC-EB.4.00109>

Secondary Sources

  1. Arnold, John, and Katherine J. Lewis, eds, A Companion to the Book of Margery Kempe (Woodbridge: Brewer, 2004)
  2. Bale, Anthony, ‘Richard Salthouse of Norwich and the Scribe of The Book of Margery Kempe’, Chaucer Review, 52.2 (2017), pp. 173–87 <https://doi.org/10.5325/chaucerrev.52.2.0173>
  3. Beckwith, Sarah, ‘A Very Material Mysticism: The Medieval Mysticism of Margery Kempe’, in Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology and History, ed. by David Aers (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1986), pp. 34–57
  4. Braidotti, Rosi, ‘Intensive Genre and the Demise of Gender’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 13.2 (2008), pp. 45–57 <https://doi.org/10.1080/09697250802432112>
  5. The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013)
  6. Bynum, Caroline Walker, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995)
  7. Chappell, Julie A., Perilous Passages: The Book of Margery Kempe, 1534–1934 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) <https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137277688>
  8. Cohen, Jeffrey J., ‘Inventing Animals in the Middle Ages’, in Engaging with Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. by Barbara A. Hanawalt, Lisa. J. Kiser, and Julie Berger Hochstrasser (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), pp. 39–64
  9. Medieval Identity Machines (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003)
  10. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012)
  11. Dinshaw, Carolyn, How Soon Is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) <https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822395911>
  12. Gillespie, Vincent, ‘Religious Writing’, in The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English: To 1550, ed. by Roger Ellis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 234–83
  13. Holsinger, Bruce, ‘Of Pigs and Parchment: Medieval Studies and the Coming of the Animal’, PMLA, 124.2 (2009), pp. 616–23 <https://doi.org/10.1632/pmla.2009.124.2.616>
  14. Justice, Stephen, ‘Did the Middle Ages Believe in their Miracles?’, Representations, 103 (2008), pp. 1–30 <https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2008.103.1.1>
  15. Kay, Sarah, ‘Legible Skins: Animals and the Ethics of Medieval Reading’, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, 2.1 (2011), pp. 13–32 <https://doi.org/10.1057/pmed.2010.48>
  16. Kiser, Lisa J., ‘Margery Kempe and the Animalisation of Christ: Animal Cruelty in Late Medieval England’, Studies in Philology, 106.3 (2009), pp. 299–315 <https://doi.org/10.1353/sip.0.0027>
  17. Lavinsky, David, ‘“Speke to me be thowt”: Affectivity, Incendium Amoris, and the Book of Margery Kempe’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 112.3 (2013), pp. 340–64 <https://doi.org/10.5406/jenglgermphil.112.3.0340>
  18. Lewis, Robert E., and others, eds, Middle English Dictionary, online edition in Middle English Compendium, ed. by Frances McSparran and others (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2000–18) <https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary> [accessed 21 March 2020] <https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.6808>
  19. Lochrie, Karma, Margery Kempe and the Translations of the Flesh (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991) <https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812207538>
  20. McEntire, Sandra, ed., Margery Kempe: A Book of Essays (London: Garland, 1992)
  21. Mulder-Bakker, Anneke B., Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe, trans. by Myra Heerspink Scholz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005) <https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812202861>
  22. Orlemanski, Julie, ‘Margery’s “Noyse” and Distributed Expressivity’, in Voice and Voicelessness in Medieval Europe, ed. by Irit Ruth Kleiman (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), pp. 123–38 <https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-39706-5_8>
  23. Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Medicine, and Causation in the Literature of Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019) <https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812296082>
  24. Spencer-Hall, Alicia, ‘The Horror of Orthodoxy: Christina Mirabilis, Thirteenth-Century “Zombie” Saint’, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, 8.3 (2017), pp. 352–75 <https://doi.org/10.1057/pmed.2016.19>
  25. Staley, Lynn, Margery Kempe’s Dissenting Fictions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994)
  26. Steel, Karl, ‘Animals and Violence: Medieval Humanism, “Medieval Brutality”, and the Carnivorous Vegetarianism of Margery Kempe’, in The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History, ed. by Hilda Kean (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 1650–1716 <https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429468933-21>
  27. How to Make a Human: Animals & Violence in the Middle Ages (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011)
  28. Varnam, Laura, and Laura Kalas Williams, eds, Encountering the Book of Margery Kempe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2022)
  29. Wallace, David, Strong Women: Life, Text, and Territory, 1347–1645 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) <https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199541713.001.0001>