Kempe: A Complex ‘Creature’

I thought Rosenfeld’s article was pretty complex and a little hard to understand, but the content that I managed to digest was rather interesting. The point that stuck with me the most was Rosenfeld’s idea¬†that Kempe “attempts the perhaps impossible task of performing exemplary singularity” – that is to say, she “contruct[s] a notion of¬†exemplarity that preserves the…integrity of both imitator and imitated” (111). As I thought about this in relation to the text, I could see what she means. Especially with her example of how in the very beginning, Kempe describes herself as both a wretched sinner and an example for others. Throughout her book she makes clear that she is at a certain level of devotion most are unable to reach, a model God created – hence why they often mock her. It is their way, according to Rosenfeld, of trying to bring her back to their level. It is interesting that she tries to stand out, yet also looks to be imitated by others – hence why she wrote, or had a scribe write, her book. I also liked the idea that both private and social constructions of exemplarity are essential to the construction of one’s own identity. This, to me, is pivotal to Kempe – she thrives on what others think of her, whether it be the gift of scorn or admiration, as well as her personal strength through her devotion to Christ.

Ultimately, I am not convinced to like Kempe. This article did, however, allow me to appreciate her book more complexly. I hope class discussion tomorrow will help me understand it more wholly.

2 thoughts on “Kempe: A Complex ‘Creature’

  1. Taylor I was also strongly disposed to dislike Margery herself. I think perhaps Rosenfeld was not trying to convince us otherwise, but to enlighten us about the environment Margery lived in as well as the motivation for her seeming insanity. That is, Margery’s singularity in an entirely male oriented society was both dangerous and unique. While I didn’t change my opinion about Margery’s likability, Rosenfeld’s essay definitely made me appreciate the feminist aspect of the Book that the introduction mentions and that I had not seen previously.

  2. It’s intriguing that Margery and the Wife of Bath are the two figures in the Middle English literary canon who seem to spark strong reactions among modern readers about whether or not they like them. Both are strong women challenging (male) authority and doing so by claiming authorized discourses of their day, despite being forbidden access to them. Why might many of us respond so strongly to such behavior, centuries ago?

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