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Winstead English 592 Abridged Texts of Margery Kempe When a literary work is published as an abridged version, the editor must take great care in choosing what of the text to include. If only certain chapters are to be read, then they must be the ones which create what is meant to be the spirit or primary essence of the book. In the case of The Book of Margery Kempe, different perspectives of the story have been thought of as the primary motif. For instance, some abridged versions may focus on her spiritual visions; whereas others may concentrate on her persecution by other members of the church, or the particular locations which she visited. After comparing two particular abridged copies of Margery Kempe, I would now recommend to readers – especially an undergraduate literary course – the edition found in the Longman Anthology of British Literature. I make this statement not so much out of specific interest in the content of the Longman excerpts, but rather as a step away from the Norton text, which focuses a bit too heavily on Margery Kempe’s religious experiences. Now, obviously the entire book relates to her spiritual life, but some chapters discuss only the positive and more sacred events: visions of Christ, miracles in the church, receiving penance, and so on. It is these chapters that are found in Norton’s excerpts. However, they are not balanced by the stories of backstabbing and political strife in the church. Norton gives no mention of Kempe’s peers in the church, who perceive all of her miracles and preaching as merely a
Jones 2 display of “holier than thou” thinking. It is highly important that the reader is not blinded to the perspectives of others at the time. If one does not hear of the idea that Kempe might not have been as holy as her tales make her seem, then the concept may not even be considered. However, the idea should be considered, because the entire meaning of the text can shift if Kempe is not considered to be the all-virtuous protagonist whom she appears as on the surface. After all, when Christ tells Kempe to be chaste with her husband, she does so. This creates an effect on the reader in two different ways. For one thing, the reader sees that Christ apparently wishes for married couples to be chaste. Also, if Kempe is the protagonist, then the reader is likely meant to relate to her and learn the lessons that she does. As a result, the reader might now think that spouses must not have sexual relations. The same lesson can apply to giving away all of one’s belongings to the poor, screaming out of pure emotion in church, and praying constantly – all of which Kempe does throughout her book. If this is the desired result, then the book is not simply a piece of literature; rather, it is now being used a preaching device. If the book is going to be read in a college course, for instance, this should not be the case. A book should be approached with neutrality, giving more than one side to a story. Now, if the reader agrees with other characters in the book and thinks that Kempe is not mentally stable, then the validity of her morals diminishes; if she is insane, then how does one know that she truly spoke to Christ? If this perspective is adopted, then suddenly the book is not focusing on the morals of the church, but perhaps instead on Kempe’s possible psychological issues.