Pious and Pitiful

After reading about Margery Kempe, I am conflicted. I found it a rather easy read compared to Julian of Norwich because this felt more like a story or narrative than the previous text. However, I didn’t entirely enjoy it. Her use of third-person and her incessant descriptions of herself as wretched and sinful were , I felt, overkill. I suppose she wanted to come across as humble and pious, but I rather pitied her. She harped on and on about the hardships she faced, setting up a metaphor and casting herself as a persecuted teacher, a similar role to Christ. The pity I felt became my focus and it distracted me from the content of the narrative, including anything she was trying to teach the audience. Maybe this technique and reinforcement of humility was more effective with her contemporaries. Either way, I do completely understand why she was considered crazy, even if I don’t personally agree with the assessment.

The Insanity of Margery Kempe

The introduction to The Book of Margery Kempe mentions that she was criticized for her lunacy. I must say I completely agree. I enjoyed reading it because I was quite amused by how utterly crazy I found her. I think it was very interesting that this was the first autobiography written in English, because based on the fact that all of Margery’s sufferings were derived from her own actions it follows logically that she deems her life important enough for an autobiography. The entire book of Margery Kempe is about her, and her direct relationship with God. As far as I can tell she does nothing in way of charitable giving and barely mentions others except to pass judgment, like in the case of the Archbishop. The incessant sobbing was also very frustrating to read about, and the other people around her in her book I’m sure felt this sentiment quite strongly. It seemed to me that Margery’s tribulations in life were for the most part self created. Her religion also seemed to be quite convenient to her, the devil taking possession whenever she no longer wanted to be held to a religious standard.

Based on this blog post it seems that I was very critical of this reading. However I appreciated it’s worth and historical context, but found Margery herself particularly irksome.

A Story for Sinful Wretches

I’m not really sure what to think about The Book of Margery Kempe. From the introduction she seems to be a very interesting woman, having been labeled as many things as “mystic, eccentric, feminist, lunatic, saint, fanatic, heretic, and visionary” (635). And her story is quite incredible; it seems that someone that suffers so much ridicule and suffering would not continue to have faith in Christ. But I found the work to be incredibly monotonous and repetitive, and I think this was in part because it so closely resembled the story of Christ and the persecution he suffered, which I have heard many, many times. After committing sins upon sins and breaking her promises to Christ multiple times, Margery finally starts on her path of righteousness, starting a religious pilgrimage. She encounters many people that scorn her, arrest her, and mistreat her but stays true to her cause and begs forgiveness for their sins. All in all, while it exemplifies a story of a persecuted Christian that does not break under the pressures of those that ridicule her, it’s an age old story and I didn’t find it particularly unique.

Near Death Feeling

When reading Julian of Norwich’s text “A Revelation of Love,” I was mildly surprised at the lack of feeling in her depiction of what transpired on her sick bed. Instead of employing flowery language and adjective laden descriptions, she seems to be merely listing out the events that occurred. Indeed, the text opens with a simple list of the sixteen visions that she witnessed. This list does not serve to elicit feeling from the reader, but rather informs them of the details to come in a manner that is formal and businesslike. Following this introduction, Julian repeatedly uses phrases like “I saw,” and “I beheld,” which makes the text feel less like a narrative, and more like a formal description. Coupled with the knowledge that Julian spent her later days as an anchoress, I was surprised at the lack of fervor and feeling present in her depiction. I wonder if this is due to societal expectations for her writing quality, though that is merely a guess.

Visions of Passion

Julian of Norwich was extremely invested in her commitment to Christ as illustrated in her writings. It amazes me at the degree to which she recall the visions in the first chapter, but I wonder what the significance of the sixteen revelation. Why was that number so important in the first vision. In chapter two she specifically asks to incur the pain of God in hopes to be worthy of his affections if I interpreted the reading correctly. Her seclusion express the passion she has for Christ and the intensity of which she wishes to focus on that relationship. I’m unsure if she is afflicted at the point of asking for these pains or if she is sane. I find It interesting to read the details of her relationship with Christ and those visions.

Religious Emotion

While reading from A Revelation of Love, I was actually surprised by the lack of emotion that came through Norwich’s text.  Obviously, she is writing about an experience that was extremely important to her and probably to religion at the time.  She walks us through these visions which are full of suffering, pain, happiness, love — all sorts of emotions — but somehow they didn’t really come through to me as I was reading, as say, the cross’s emotion did in “Dream of the Rood.”  It might be the very matter of fact way that she maps out what will happen in each chapter and the frank descriptions, but despite the levity of what Norwich is describing, the text felt almost bland.  It greatly contrasts (but also compliments) the fervor and emotion of Margery Kempe I think.  But then again, people thought Kempe was insane.  So I wondered: does Julian of Norwich check some of the emotional excitement in order to be taken more seriously?

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering are key themes that are repeated again and again in “A revelation of Love” by Julian of Norwich.  To begin the narrator wishes for three wishes from God, first is to watch Jesus suffer during the crucifixion and the second wish was to become deathly ill.    Pain in these sense is a way in which a person is able to become closer and more devote to God.  The sacraments and desire to both receive a form of miracle or to actually die and go to Heaven are keyed upon by the narrator.  Then throughout the text this theme is again and again returned to, whether by humans or Jesus suffering for humans.  It becomes almost a form of prayer to go through a form of hardship.

God as Mother and Father

What I found most interesting when reading Julian of Norwich was the idea that the Trinity is made up of Fatherhead, Motherhead, and Lordhead.  In chapters 58 and 60, God and Jesus are described as mother of mankind.  This surprising view on theology asserts that the Motherhead of the Trinity is merciful and loving.  Jesus is considered like a mother because he feeds mankind with himself, like a mother feeds a baby with breast milk.  This idea relates to the Miracle of the Virgin in which Mary heals a sick man with her breast milk.  We discussed in class that Mary’s breast milk was seen as magnificent.  Julian of Norwich’s chapter 60 also brings up the holiness of breast feeding by paralleling a mother’s milk with Jesus’s sacrifice of himself.  Julian of Norwich describes the Motherhead as merciful, kind, loving, sensual, wise, and knowing.  Many of these words are traditionally used to describe God but as a “Father” not as a mother.  The tenderness, sacrifice, and love of a mother is equated to the Motherhead of the Trinity, which gives us an idea of how women and mothers were seen in this time, which is very comparable to common descriptions of mothers today. In a way, the mother figure conforms to gender norms, of today at least, being loving and tender and the father figure has “high might” like a stereotypical masculine ideal. The Fatherhead is described as mighty and the Lordhead as gracious and greatly loving.  However, Julian of Norwich points out the importance of all three parts that God is made up of, especially the significance of the Motherhead. The idea of the Motherhead, I imagine, would have been a pretty radical idea at the time and even today, it is a new take on classic theology, which is one reason why it was so interesting to read.

I found the three “Miracles of the Virgin” tales to be interesting and even entertaining to read, but in each poem, at least one line or description had me writing “ew” in the margins.  In the first, “The Monk Who Could Only Learn Ave Maria,” I felt humorous pity for the poor guy who could only learn two words of his prayers.  Then I was taken a bit aback when after his death “they dug and discovered the lily root coming right out of his mouth” (23).  They are happy about this discovery, but I found it sort of gross that they dug up his grave and saw a flower growing from the corpse.  In the second poem the poor beggar boy is found “ful depe idrouned in fulthe of fen” and “very foully spattered” as a side note tells us.  He throat has also been split open (which, surprise, a lily is later found in).  Finally, in the last poem, the Virgin Mary breast feeds the sick monk and this is described as “marvelous,” but to me seemed sort of disgusting.  Obviously, the Virgin is rewarding those, whether in life or death, who sang or spoke praises to her.  But they really left me wondering how these things would have been read and received at the time.  Would medieval readers have found these descriptions empowering, humorous, or just gross? And is disgust an emotion??

Personification of the Cross

The Dream of the Rood is about the cross that Jesus was nailed to is telling the narrator the story of the crucifixion. I found it unusual that the author personified the cross itself to speak about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Unlike other texts that contained magical elements through a dream or appearance of an angel this text shows an actual cross first radiating riches then bleeding and ultimately speaking about its life.  On one hand the poem is promoting Jesus but on the other it is using a magical element to do so.