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SteffiDanielleYoung
Dr.KarenPrior
ENG438
21Feb2012
AResponsetoMargeryKempeandtheMeaningofMadness
Whetherornotautobiographieswrittenbyallegedlymadpeopleshouldbeconsidered
asvalidorappropriatesourcesofhistoricalinformationandtruthhasbeendebated,especially
withtherecentpopularityofsuchliterature.ThearticleMargeryKempeandtheMeaningof
MadnessbyRoyPortersuggeststhatcontrarytoprevailingopinion,autobiographieswritten(or
inthiscase,dictated)bymadpeopleprovideauniquereadingofmentaldisordersina
historicalcontext,concludingthatmadnesswasthewayMargeryKempedealtwithsocietys
expectationsforherasamedievalwoman,mother,andChristian.Porteroffersabalanced
thoughattimesunderdevelopedapproachindealingwiththemadnessofthebizarrelycurious
personofMargeryKempebyassessingherlifethroughthecontextofmedievalsocietyand
Christendom,insteadofattemptingtoneatlydefineherbizarrebehaviorsthroughthelensof
modernpsychoanalysis.
Thearticlebeginsappropriatelywithcontextregardingthehistoryofliteratureby
victimsofmentalhealthdisorder,fromthemedievalstothepresent.Porteremphasizesthat
Kempeslifestoryisuniqueamidsuchwritingsbecausesheisafemaleandalsothat[she]
wasabletomakesenseof[herexperiences].throughtheidiomoftheChristianlifeofthe
spirit(40).Hethusmaintainsthatheroddexperiencesareherpersonalwaysofexpressinga
deepandpassionatepiety.Portercontinues,providingasomewhatdisorganizedsummaryofthe

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sortoflifeKempeled,describinghowsheturnedtowardsazealousexpressionofherreligionto
dealwiththelossesofbothherbusinessandhercontinuing,tumultuousmentaltroubles(40).
InspiredbyChristianidealsandhatredoftheflesh,Kempewentthroughgreatlengthsto
ensuretheseverancefromheroccupationswiththematerialworldandtodevoteherselftoGod.
Portermaintainsthatthechiefresultofthispassionresultedinherdesiretofreeherselffrom
sexualslavery(41)ofmarriage.ThearticlethencontinueswithdetailsrelatingKempes
strangemysticalexperiences,hersuddenboutsoflongperiodsofintenseweeping,herstrange
visions,andherclaimstoprophecyandvisionsandvoicesfromGodhimself,emphasizinghow
theseodditiesalienatedherfromhersociety.Porterslanguagethroughoutthisratherlengthy
andattimesconvolutedsummaryreadsclearfromcynicismorcivilcondescension,dictatingin
straightforwardtermsthehostofodditiesinKempeslife.Heseemsrespectfulandevenkindly
emphatic,notingKempesbraveryasamedievalwoman,emphasizinghowshewasoftenin
dangerofpersecutionandlosingherlifebecauseshelivedsoqueerly,sofarremovedfromthe
expectedroleforwomenofherday.ButPortersdisorganizedsummaryofherlifecomprises
overhalfthearticle,andseemstofillindetailratherthanprovidebackgroundforhisthesisand
statedpurposeinwriting.
Afterthissummary,PorterturnsnowtocriticallyassessingthepeculiarlifeofMargery
Kempewithamarkedlybalancedapproach,describingseverallensesofviewingherstrange,
mysticalexperiencesbeforestatinghisownopinion.Thefirstmethodheexplainsisthatof
takingherbizarretalesastruth,simplymorestrangeandsupernaturalexperiencesamongthe
manyreportedbyearlyChristianmystics.Ontheothersideofthisviewarethosewhoarewary
ofconfusinghistorywithhagiography(43).ButtheapproachPorterhasthemostdistasteforis

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thattakenbypsychoanalyticsleuths(43)whosewordspaintapictureofKempeasawoman
withpsychoticbehavior(43),whosecatalystforsuchanintensereactionwaspathological
distortionsofthesexualimpulse,concludingthatMargerywasthusavictimofhysteria(43).
PorterslanguagehereisrathersarcasticofanyattemptsofpsychoanalysisinKempesstory.He
makesthepointthatthisconclusionbythepsychoanalyticsistrivializingandevenaccusing
towardsKempe.Heisrighttoaddressthescholarlytendencytousemodernandvaguestrainsof
pseudopsychologytodissecthistoricalnarratives,oftenattheexpenseofstigmatizingtheauthor
anddrawingabsurdconclusionsdisguisedwithscientificbabble.Porterconcludessayingthat
thesepreviousviewsdonotdoadequatelyprovideacorrectwayofreadingherlife(44)
suggestingsensiblythatinsteadweshouldattempttounderstandherasachildofhertimes,
religioussocialandpersonal(44).ToPorter,thisviewpointmeansunderstandingthather
behaviorexpressedthecontentions,beliefsandlanguageofherday,thoughinextremeforms
(44).Herelateshowhermadnesswasherattempttocometotermswithherquestionsregarding
theplaceofpiety(44)inthelifeofmedievalwomen,regulatedtomarriageandmotherhood.
Margeryslifebecomesthestoryofonewomansstrugglewiththeinnerconflictresultingfrom
wantingtoleadalifeofspiritualsignificanceandnotbeingabletodosoduetorestrictingsocial
norms.Indeed,PorterrightlyemphasizesthatKempesultimategoalofstrivingtobecloserto
Godandtoherspiritualityisanobleone,thoughhermethodsofdoingsomightbequestionable.
ThisconclusionemphasizesPortersverybalancedandclearoutlook,andyet,thereremains
muchtobesaid,forsuchaclaimshouldnotbemadeunwarranted,anduptillnow,therehas
beenverylittlebutsimplesummaryofKempesesotericlife.
UltimatelyheconcludesthatKempesmadnesshadamethodinit,andprovidedasource

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ofstrengththroughwhichshecametotermswithandhelpedresolvedilemmas(44).Thislast
summaryisadeptinthatitcarefullysteersclearofofferingatidyapproachtodealingwiththe
personallifeofoneasstrangeandcomplexasMargerys,butPortershouldmakeaneffortto
expoundonthispoint.Hisessayhasspentsomuchtimeinitssummarizingthathehasleftlittle
placeforhimselftodevelopmorevividlywhatexactlyhemeansbythisfinalconclusion.What
doesitmeantousemadnesstoresolveonesinnerissuesandhowisthisexpressedinthetext
itself?Suchastrongpointseemsaffixedtoofferasenseofclosureinthearticle,aclosurethat
shouldnotreallybethere.Portercouldhavehereexpandedanddevelopedhispoints,especially
forsuchaboldandintriguingconclusion.Butnonetheless,hisarticleisofgoodcaliberifsimply
becauseherefusestofallintostigmatizingortrivializingKempeslifeandexperiences,and
paintsaportraitofMargeryKempeslifeasmeritingstudynotsimplybecauseofitsbizarre
oddities.

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WorksCited
Porter,Roy,"MargeryKempeandtheMeaningofMadness."HistoryToday.38.2(1988):
AcademicSearchComplete.Web.20Feb.2013.