Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2022

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

School

Humanities

Committee Chair

Leah Pope Parker

Committee Chair School

Humanities

Committee Member 2

Jameela Lares

Committee Member 2 School

Humanities

Committee Member 3

Emily Stanback

Committee Member 3 School

Humanities

Abstract

This thesis examines the fifteenth-century auto-hagiographical narrative of Margery Kempe’s adult life, The Book of Margery Kempe. Margery Kempe lived ca. 1373–ca. 1440 in Bishop’s Lynn, England and dictated the earliest surviving autobiography written in English. Margery recounts her experiences of stigma based on episodes that she interprets as visions and pious Christian devotion, but which she recounts her community interpreting as heresy and, potentially, mental impairment. Her irregular behaviors include intense bouts of weeping, visions from God, and wearing all-white clothing, counter to contemporary norms for married—i.e., non-virginal—women. Additionally, contemporary physiological understandings of women’s bodies set up a religious framework for considering gender difference as potentially impairing, such that Margery’s gendered body heightens the visibility of her non-normative cognition. Utilizing a socio-religious perspective on disability and stigma, this thesis argues that while Margery does not view herself as impaired, her account of the stigmatizing treatment she receives reveals an experience of gender and mental impairment that resonates with modern concepts of disability.

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