Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Andrea R. Harbin

Second Advisor

Denise Knight


The provocative Book of Margery Kempe is a seminal text in the history of female authorship. Claiming to be the first written autobiography, The Book serves as a literary representation of womanhood during the late fourteenth to the fifteenth centuries when Margery was writing, and also speaks to circulating medieval discourses of religion, pilgrimage, and sexuality. Participating in medieval women’s visionary writing as a genre, Margery’s visionary power is a tool by which she is able to emancipate herself from the limiting roles of wife and mother. Additionally, by working within the conventions of visionary writing, Margery is able to exercise forms of private, public, and literary power that otherwise may have not been available to her as a woman in her historical milieu. By using queer theory to interpret The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery’s often challenging and subversive behavior is privileged as a method of critiquing boundaries of her role as a woman, her place within the Church’s hierarchy and the mediation of Christ’s desires, as well as the boundaries of an appropriate and acceptable sexuality. Thus, the queer in The Book of Margery Kempe reveals tensions in the text that contest dominant ideologies and values in the Middle Ages that are pertinent to the changing tides in institutionalized religion, women’s roles, and genre in the fourteenth century.