Painful Transformations: A Medical Approach to Experience, Life Cycle and Text in British Library, Additional MS 61823, 'The Book of Margery Kempe'
Williams, Laura Elizabeth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
The thesis contains images from BL Additional MS 61823 that have been supplied to me by The British Library. These images are owned by The British Library and cannot be reproduced or viewed until publication, as agreed by the Board of The British Library.
This thesis interprets The Book of Margery Kempe using a medieval medical approach. Through an interdisciplinary methodology based on a medical humanities framework, the thesis explores the significance of Kempe’s painful experiences through a broad survey of the human life cycle, as understood in medieval culture. In exploring the interplay of humoral theory, medical texts, religious instruction and life cycle taxonomies, it illustrates the porousness of medicine and religion in the Middle Ages and the symbiotic relationship between spiritual and corporeal health. In an age when the circulation of medical texts in the English vernacular was increasing, scholastic medicine not only infiltrated religious houses but also translated into lay praxis. Ideas about the moral and physical nature of the human body were thus inextricably linked, based on the popular tradition of Christus medicus. For this reason, the thesis argues that Margery Kempe’s pain, experience and controversial performances amongst her euen-cristen were interpreted in physiological and medical terms by her onlookers, as ‘pain-interpreters’. It also offers a new transcription of the recipe from B.L. Add. MS 61823, f.124v, and argues for its importance as a way of reading the text as an ‘illness narrative’ which depicts Margery Kempe’s spiritual journey from sickness to health. The chapters examine Kempe’s humoral constitution and predisposition to mystical perceptivity, her crying, her childbearing and married years, her menopausal middle age of surrogate reproductivity, and her elderly life stage. Medical texts such as the Trotula, the Sekenesse of Wymmen and the Liber Diversis Medicinis help to shed light on the ways in which medieval women’s bodies were understood. The thesis concludes that, via a ‘pain surrogacy’ hermeneutic, Kempe is brought closer to a knowledge of pain which is transformational, just as she transforms through the stages of the life cycle.
PhD in English