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Margery Kempe: Madwoman or Mystic – A Narrative Approach to the Representation of Madness and Mysticism in Medieval England

By Alison Torn


Historically, the boundaries between madness and mysticism have been characterised by fluidity. However, since the emergence of psychiatry in the 1800s, attempts have been made to place a firm distinction between the two experiences. In our increasingly Western, secularised society, experiences of mysticism have become marginalised outside of their religious context and in some cases, pathologised within the classificatory systems that construct mental illness. In this paper, I want to examine this contested boundary by discussing my analysis of a medieval woman’s experience of both madness and mysticism. I shall argue that rather than this text being interpreted as an early narrative of madness, it is primarily an attempted hagiography, that is a narrative of a saint's life

Topics: PN0441, D111
Publisher: University of Huddersfield
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:

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