A Blogger in the Fifteenth Century: The Book of Margery Kempe

If Margery Kempe had lived 600 years later, she might have been a blogger. The Book of Margery Kempe is an account of her later life, much like a diary, without any obvious connecting theme or storyline. Much like a modern blogger might be technically challenged and enlist the help of a son or daughter, Mrs. Kempe was illiterate and solicited the help of an Englishman living in Germany, possibly her own son, and later the help of a priest to get her story written. But modern bloggers may owe a loosely associated debt to The Book of Margery Kempe since many consider it the first autobiography written in the English language.
Two other similarities between Mrs. Kempe and modern blog writers are an interest in home-based businesses and seemingly random ramblings. Margery Kempe operated a grain mill and a brewery, both common home-based businesses operated by women in Medieval times, although without success. Even though Mrs. Kempe is sometimes thought of as an oddity, recent scholarship on vernacular theologies and popular practices of piety suggest she may not have been as odd as she first appears; instead of the ramblings of a madwoman, her Book is now thought to be a carefully constructed commentary on spiritual and social issues. While modern blogs might not be so carefully built, at the very least The Book of Margery Kempe parallels their ability to provide insight on the female middle class. In this case, Kempe’s book may be the best source of such insight we now have from the Middle Ages.
Margery Kempe is a well traveled woman, having made several pilgrimages to the Holy Lands. Her worldliness and business background could remind you of The Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, but the similarity stops there. Instead of an interest in sex and multiple marriages, Kempe has chosen a life of chastity, along with her husband, and devoted herself to spiritual pursuits. As “modern” as this might sound, holy men and women often broke with the traditions of family and society. Outside the boundaries of physical and patriarchal constraints of marriage, these believers could cultivate a less restricted relationship with God. This practice constituted an important women’s religious movement of the Middle Ages, and its documentation in The Book of Margery Kempe provides part of the reason for the work’s significance.
The work was uncovered in 1934, found in the personal library of a family in Lancashire. Too bad The Book of Margery Kempe didn’t have the accessibility of a modern blog, where someone could simply have Googled to find it.