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Reviewed by:
  • Margery Kempe and Her World
  • Raymond A. Powell
Goodman, Anthony . Margery Kempe and Her World. (Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited. 2005. Pp. xx, 274. $32.99 paperback.)

Those approaching Anthony Goodman's new work on Margery Kempe may be somewhat alarmed by the Series Editor's preface: "remarkable spiritual insights"; "her struggles to negotiate her way through the patriarchal expectations"; "apparent personality disorder" (p. ix). Same old Margery. In fact Margery Kempe and Her World is not the same old Margery. It is far more creative, interesting, and sensible, and makes a valuable contribution to an increasingly overcrowded field.

Goodman focuses on the relationship between the social context and The Book to provide an "understanding of the possible ways in which knowledge of these contexts can augment our understanding of The Book, and the extent to which The Book can be used to illuminate them" (p. 13). Moving back and forth from context to text, with a thorough mastery of both, Goodman succeeds both in offering new and plausible interpretations of Kempe's intriguing work and in allowing The Book to make sense of late medieval English social and religious life.

The suggestion that a book is an excellent introductory text too often seems somehow insulting, conjuring up images of sophomore essays and pedestrian textbooks. This is an excellent introductory text. Students who read it will learn a great deal about important aspects of life in late medieval England. They will be exposed to important theoretical approaches to history and to different modern interpretations of Margery Kempe. But it is also a creative and scholarly work, which has worthwhile things to say to experts in the field. The interplay between text and context is a particularly fruitful one under Goodman's skillful handling, and while the nature of the work is such that there is no single, easily summarized thesis, the author succeeds in suggesting a number of valuable insights. Even those readers not persuaded about a particular theory are liable to find their own thinking challenged and their understanding enriched.

Margery Kempe and Her World manages to be entertainingly written without being insulting. Goodman brings to the subject a lifetime of learning, which he applies with clarity, sensitivity and common sense. Throughout the work he engages theoretical approaches and uses their insights without surrendering to them, and manages to draw on the considerable body of Kempe literature without ever becoming bogged down.

The author's preface begins with equine imagery, suggesting a tired old carthorse being put through his paces one last time. If so, this book represents not just a gallop, but a victory lap.

Raymond A. Powell
Boerne, Texas


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