MA Texts and Contexts Week 10

This week the theme of femininity was continued in both strands. Strand A involved the examination of two versions of the life of St. Æthelthryth of Ely – in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica and the Liber Eliensis. While the hagiography of St. Æthelthryth is a different genre to the mystical and autobiographical middle-English Book of Margery Kempe, it is interesting to note the similarities between the texts. The fact that Margery’s book is autobiographical makes it more modest. She continually refers to herself as the “creature”. However, because it is an account of her memories as they come to her mind it is often quite rambling and fragmented. She refers to herself in the third person, which is both distancing and objective. The Liber Eliensis is also quite objective, aiming to collect information on St. Æthelthryth from a number of sources. The fantastical elements are more profound in Margery of Kempe, when compared to the miracles of St. Æthelthryth. Margery’s marriage to God in chapter 35 is both mystical and spiritual. This is comparable to the representation of God as a bridegroom in the hagiographical Liber Eliensis. What I found most striking about the similarities of the texts was the fact that both Margery and Æthelthryth turned to a life of chastity after several years of marriage. However, while Margery had fourteen children, it is reported that St. Æthelthryth preserved her virginity throughout two marriages lasting a combined fourteen years.

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