Cover Image: Revelations

Revelations

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“My story is not a straightforward one. Women’s stories never are.”

Margery Kempe, born in the small town of Bishop’s Lynn in Norfolk circa 1373, was a woman who confounded and transformed her medieval world. Married to a much older man, she left her family life behind after bearing fourteen children, taking a vow of celibacy and choosing to pursue a spiritual path.

Following her first pregnancy, she had suffered a mental breakdown and was brought out of it after seeing a radiant version of Christ which instilled her with a feeling of divine love. Later, as a middle-aged woman, after receiving support and understanding from the anchoress Julian of Norwich, Kempe took a pilgrimage route to the Holy Land and later to Santiago de Compostela. Toward the end of her life, she composed a book thought to be the first English-language autobiography.

Mary Sharratt’s Revelations brings us acutely into the interior life and outward experiences of Margery Kempe, who narrates her story in the first person. It’s a wonderful evocation of an extraordinary figure and the medieval mindset in general. The author is an eloquent chronicler of historical women’s thorny paths to self-fulfillment, and Margery faces significant obstacles on her journey, as a sole female disrupting the gender status quo, and traveling through a world designed for men.

“A questing soul with a hungry mind,” Margery challenges sumptuary laws by dressing in white, as her visions direct her to, and narrowly avoids convictions of heresy at a time when Lollards – followers of John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English – are burned at the stake. On her wanderings throughout Europe, Margery sees many strange and wondrous sights (the landscapes are beautifully described), comes into the company of other travelers, and must quickly decide how much she can trust them. Trouble accompanies her everywhere. She remains a sympathetic figure, and at the same time, it’s clear how some of her actions and beliefs are incomprehensible to those around her.

Revelations is an illuminating read for anyone interested in stepping back into a long-ago time and envisioning its main character’s life and accomplishments. Though both are separate stories, it makes for a nice pairing with the author’s earlier novel Illuminations, about Hildegard of Bingen.
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5 fascinating stars
Sometimes women these days feel like they have not made equal rights progress. Everyone should read this book! I learned much about times in the 1300s and how women were held down literally, figuratively and financially. Margery Kempe defies any box people of the time tried to put her in. To make up for her business incompetent husband, Mary brews beer in her kitchen. It’s better than her husband’s and he sometimes took it and sold it as his own. 

Nearly dying after her 14th child, Margery vowed, NO more children, and left alone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Rome. Married women traveling alone was unheard of at this time. John, rambunctious husband, (of whom her mother said, “He’s not a bad man. He doesn’t beat you or the children.”), would not have traveled well “with his beer belly and bunions.” 

Throughout her life Margery had visions of Christ. She would weep loudly and sometimes faint. Despite her trying to follow the rules, the male priests hated and feared her, because through her travels she showed an ‘ordinary wife’ could touch the divine and usurp their powers.  Margery’s faith was embracing. “If only we could look past the pain and see the love that was everywhere. Divine radiance saturated every living creature, every tree and clod of earth. When I looked at the stone walls bordering the road, they appeared as though they were made entirely of light.” Margery shared this with women and others who would listen and was put on trial for heresy. 

Interesting historical tidbits re food, clothing, and manners are tossed in, but never become cumbersome. Despite the Middle Ages time period, the action is easy to follow. Margery’s first-person narrative makes the story come alive. (The audio book is outstanding too!) Travel at the time was very rough, whether by foot, ass, or boat. Groups formed to keep pirates and thieves away. Every group had its own dynamic, with kind souls and cheating, evil people. Revelations is as much an action story as it is a faith story, travelogue and biography. 

Make sure to read the historical afterward section where the author shares some of her research and sources. The best books make you want to learn more and I watched a documentary about Julian of Norwich and looked up other information.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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*Many thanks to Mary Sharratt, Houghton Miffin Harcourt, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.
Historical fiction based on the lives of historic figures. The author's aim was to present as much as was possible on Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich and to fictionalize their lives in a way that is both informative and interesting to read for a modern reader. Two medieval women who found their vocation and who were rare in expressing their opinions in the world where women were not kept in high esteem, not to mention the courage to meditate on the teachings of the Church.
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Historical fiction at its best – well-researched, informative, and entertaining. It’s a fictionalised autobiography of Margery Kempe, the author of the first autobiography written in English and the first written by a woman. And what a remarkable woman she was.  Wife, mother, mystic, pilgrim – here she narrates her amazing life in all its detail, and thereby provides the reader with a window into the medieval world. Daily life, travel, religious controversies, the position and treatment of women, the Church, Beguines – and so much more. Her meeting with Julian of Norwich, who entrusts her with the manuscript of Revelations of Divine Love and that book’s subsequent trajectory, is a fascinating story in and of itself. Yes, the book is occasionally overwritten and descends into romantic fiction, and yes, the villains are almost caricatures of villains. But then we see everything through the filter of Margery's own voice so such small quibbles can be overlooked. By me, anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and overall I found it a truly compelling account, which had me scurrying off to find out more. The author acknowledges that she has changed the chronology slightly and has Margery present at events she could not have been present at, but she justifies this in a way I found convincing and although I am usually a stickler for historical accuracy I agreed that such changes made for a more coherent narrative.  All in all a great read.
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Although this historical novel based on the autobiography of Margery Kempe is good, it has some flaws. The plot is excellent and the characters vivid. Unfortunately, the author is deeply enamored of feminist theology that has her protagonists speaking ways contrary to their beliefs. If she had left this out it would be a much better book.
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Mary Sharratt's Revelations is a fictionalized account of the life of English mystic Margery Kempe (c.1373–after 1438). Following the birth of her first child, Kempe experienced a breakdown of sorts, during which, she claimed, she was haunted by visions of horrible demons who encouraged her to kill herself. After months of torment, Christ appeared to her, assuring her she was not damned. Her mind was immediately calmed and the demons banished, and she went on to have visions of her savior for the rest of her life. She spent the ensuing years as an obedient wife, ultimately having 14 children despite attempts to discourage her husband's advances. She nearly died giving birth to her last child, and when her spouse didn't seem inclined to modify his behavior, she decided to take a vow of chastity and embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Revelations follows this remarkable woman's life, travels and encounters with the authorities over charges of heresy.

The story is told through first-person narration from Kempe's point of view, which seems fitting given the author's main source material: The mystic dictated her life's story in the 1430s, and the resulting Book of Margery Kempe is thought by some to be the first autobiography in English. In Sharratt's hands, Kempe becomes a three-dimensional person. I had mixed feelings about the protagonist in a way that demonstrates how well this character is crafted, admiring Kempe's pluck while also finding her obnoxious at times. I was never quite sure if her devotion to Christ was genuine or a pretense that allowed her to live on her own terms. At times she comes across as a bit batty, at others overbearing; she prevaricates, is a bit lascivious around the edges. Above all, she's determined to remain independent. I absolutely loved her ambiguities and contradictions.

Although the story is placed within a religious framework, the author doesn't spend much time expanding on Kempe's views of Christian devotion. Instead, the book focuses on her physical journeys, and as a result it often reads like a travel diary. I found this approach fascinating; I particularly enjoyed the realistic emphasis on the rigors of medieval travel — rather than its spiritual rewards — and explanation of how Kempe's adventures impacted her as she returned to England. She remarks, "When pilgrims first set off on their jubilant and perilous journey to holy places, nobody ever warns them what an ordeal it is to come home. My travels had utterly transformed me."

I read historical fiction not only to learn about an event or person, but to pick up detail about the time period. The author hits the mark here; she slips in just enough information to be entertaining, but not so much that the story gets bogged down in description. At one point Kempe mentions she was given permission to receive the Eucharist every Sunday, noting this to be "a rare privilege, as most lay folk took communion only once a year, on Easter." Another part mentions a visit to a stationer, where various scripts, papers and bindings are on display so those desiring a book can select its exact materials — the printing press wasn't yet invented and so books were hand-crafted works of art. These instances and many others throughout the novel added to my understanding of the era and were a definite highlight.

Sharratt's excellent characterization is unfortunately limited to Kempe herself; almost every other person is drawn without nuance. Those who opposed her, in particular, are painted with an enormously broad brush. I literally couldn't stop thinking about the mustache-twirling cartoon character Snidely Whiplash when reading about Kempe's prosecutor, the Duke of Bedford. This is a relatively large flaw, but the other details are so well rendered that it mostly didn't impact my high opinion of the work.

I have to say, though, that I'm also disappointed in Revelations' jacket description, and feel it does the book a disservice. First, readers are led to believe this is the story of two women, not one. While Kempe does indeed meet Julian of Norwich and adopts the woman's philosophy, Julian is a minor character and features only briefly; the narrative stays laser-focused on Kempe. Perhaps more concerning, the description compares Revelations to Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love, but I'm at a loss to find parallels between the two. Unlike Gilbert's, Kempe's journey isn't one of self-discovery — she already knows who she is and what she believes — and I think it unlikely that those who formed an emotional or spiritual connection to Eat, Pray, Love will develop the same love for Revelations.

Looking beyond those complaints, readers looking for a top-notch work of historical fiction should definitely put Revelations on their shortlist. Book groups, too, will certainly find it offers many topics for discussion, particularly surrounding gender roles and expectations.
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Truly inspirational reading. Tells the story of Margery Kempe and her life and what a life it was. A solidly courageous woman who would not give up her beliefs. You will also learn about Julian of Norwich, who was an anchoress which I had never heard of before. I did some extra research on the subject and found it fascinating. A great read. 

Thank you NetGalley, the author and publisher for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This book just didn't get me consistently engaged. The first 10% or so seemed frivolous, and I didn't know how I was going to deal with the narrator for the remaining 90%. The second 10% was engaging. The central character matured; the action became more deeply grounded. I kept going until I'd read 54%, but the entire experience was on of alternating engagement and disengagement. The narrator's raptures didn't ring true to me.
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Revelations is sure to be one of the best books of 2021. Put it on your TBR pile now!!

Mary Sharratt transports the reader to medieval times (1400s) with her story of the once forgotten Margery Kempe, housewife and mother to fourteen children, who believed she had a revelation to leave her family to travel the world on pilgrimages to honor her Lord. Margery visited Dame Julian of Norwich, a holy and highly learned anchoress, to share her calling and to seek her counsel before leaving on her pilgimages. Dame Julian, advised Margery to trust in God and all would be well.

Margery begins her pilgramages and Sharratt's research, and skillful writing takes the reader along through every bit of them; the hardships, the mortal danger, the contempt of many, the hunger of others for her words and presence, her revelations, her joy, her convictions, her doubt, and her trial as a heretic.

Dame Julian of Norwich had sixteen revelations of Christ as she lay on her deathbed during an illness from which she recovered. Her manuscipt of those revelations became "Revelations of Divine Love", the first book written in English by a woman. Kempe wrote her own story "The Book of Margery Kempe" which became the first autobiography in the English language.

The lives and times of these two remarkable women are fascinating. Thank-you, Mary Sharratt for writing such a marvelous book!! I highly recommend it to all.

My thanks also to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for letting me read a review copy of this book. All opinions (and any errors) expressed in this review are my own.
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For Medievalists, especially lady Medievalists, the names of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich have a reverence attached to them. Both Christian mystics in their own time, these women offer us a look at their intellectual and deeply personal spirituality that is not often part of the primary narrative of Medieval history. And while the intellectual lives of women are often overlooked and reserved for niche areas of historical analysis, Kempe and Norwich - like Hildegard von Bingen before them - seem remarkably fresh and relatable even to audiences in the 21st century. More to the point, when both of these historical figures were generated into shadow Twitter accounts (seriously, historical Twitter might be the best Twitter) hardly anyone seemed surprised  by what these two women proclaimed in a 140 character count post. And Margery Kempe is an interesting figure to use to tell the story of female mysticism in the Middle Ages because unlike her contemporaries that she has been compared to since her own time, Kempe was not a nun and therefore her story as mystic, madwoman, intellectual is supremely intriguing. 

'Revelations' by Mary Sharratt is an absolutely delightful novelization of the life of Margery of Kempe and her fateful meeting with Julian of Norwich around 1413. Kempe is an interesting figure and dictated what many consider to be the first autobiography in English in the 1420s which detailed her visions, mystical and religious experiences, as well as her travels and pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land, her trial for heresy, and her documented confessions. What Sherratt does is provide readers with a rich contextualization to the life and adventures of Margery Kempe much in the same way that Philippa Gregory has done with her War of the Roses and Tudor stories. What i supremely appreciate about Sharratt is that she picked a subject that was not motivated by love or ambition, but rather her spirituality and her zest to discover all that God's world had to offer. 

These historical fictions are delightful and make the women of the past real for a contemporary audience separate from academia. I would encourage any who enjoyed this book, to seek out 'The Book of Margery Kempe' and 'The Revelations of Divine Love' by Julian of Norwich for themselves. 

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I received Revelations as part of a NetGalley giveaway.

In 14th century England, Margery Kempe has suffered 14 pregnancies and a lukewarm marriage. Yet instead of accepting her lot as was the fate of most medieval women, she leaves her unhappy home life behind and undertakes a life of pilgrimage and fervent religious devotion with the support and blessing of the stories anchoress Julian of Norwich. But in a time when the heresy of Lollardy is a growing threat to the established church, someone--a female someone, at that--preaching in an unorthodox and even radical manner attracts attention, and not only the admiring kind. Margery must 

This was a really interesting read, and Margery was a fascinating character as interpreted by Sharrett. I'm not religious, so the frequent sobbing jags and intense religiosity would have probably put me personally on edge, but despite that, Margery is a very human, complex character for whom I had both admiration and sympathy. I love reading about the lives of medieval women, who are so often shut out of political narratives, and this story of a rather ordinary woman was one I'd only heard bits and pieces of until this point. Really enjoyable read.
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A fictionalised account of the life of Margery of Kempe, generally regarded as being the author of the first autobiography in English. Mystic, wife, mother, pilgrim, accused heretic, all-round confounder of stereotypes and expectations. Margery always comes across as something quite extraordinary, beginning with the fact that we know anything about her at all - so few medieval women are known to the historical record, let alone in her own words. (Well, probably; she's recorded as having dictated her account to a scribe. But I don't think anyone seriously doubts that her words are her own.) 

What Sharratt chooses to do in order to really bring Christianity and mysticism to the forefront is highlight Margery's friendship with Julian of Norwich. They definitely did know each other, so that bit isn't a problem. Julian was an anchorite - she took vows and was sealed up in a room that she never left, the better to contemplate God. She was also an author - the first named English female author, in fact. Her book was about revelations from God, concerning grace and love and the overwhelming affection that God has for creation; and she goes so far as to refer to 'Mother God', and call God's love maternal. Sharratt makes her quite accessible, here, and the fate of her book is a significant part of the story - written as it was when England was terrified (and intrigued) by "Lollardy" - the idea of having the Bible in English and challenging the supremacy of priests as interpreters of God's word, and various other things imputed to them. 

Julian and Margery together certainly challenge the structure of the medieval Catholic Church. Margery, too, claimed to have visions, and Sharratt includes them as genuine and deeply affective experiences. Through Julian and Margery, Sharratt touches on some of the issues facing the Catholic Church throughout the Middles Ages - the role of priests and of communion and the accessibility of God to laypeople. The book doesn't get especially deep into these issues, though. There are some truly despicable friars and priests, but also some genuinely loving and holy ones. Margery and Julian are certainly shown to be faithful daughters of God. 

The one thing that troubled me here was some of the historical licence taken. Various true events have been included out of time for emotional impact: Margery witnessing the burning of Jan Hus, for instance. I don't really see that this was necessary to heighten the tension, and I don't think Margery needed to see someone being executed in order to have the reality of the dangers she faced brought home. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's well written and a fast read (I read it in a single, admittedly uninterrupted, day). It's useful for emphasising both the similarities of the Middle Ages to our own time, as well as the vast differences. I already knew a little about both Julian and Margery, so I don't know what this would be like with no prior knowledge; I suspect it would be fine.
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Who knew the 14th-century had so many interesting medieval women mystics? You might have an inkling of their power if you’ve read previous books by Mary Sharratt. Margery Kempe is a mother of 14 who became a pilgrim and preacher. She’s not allowed to choose her own husband, but goes along with her parents wishes to marry John Kempe, a brewer in Bishop’s Lynn England. What might be considered postpartum psychosis she is obsed with visions of demons until a vision of Christ returns her to sanity. Bearing 14 children wears her out and she begs for a mutual vow of chastity with her husband. When he agrees, she sets out on a pilgrimage. First she goes to Jerusalem and then to Spain where she meets Julian of Norwich, a mystic and an “anchoress” confined to a cell attached to a church. The story is taken from Margery Kempe’s diary and enhanced by the historical knowledge found in Sharratt’s writing.
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After bearing fourteen children and suffering under the constraints of being a middle class woman in the High Middle Ages, Margery Kempe has had enough. She's going to take a vow of chastity and make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to see Jerusalem. Always pious, she's long dreamed of making a pilgrimage, fantasizing for hours while memorizing her father's gilded pilgrimage map. But as a wife, she'd have to have a husband accompany her. And her husband will not. Worse, he continues to press his affections on her and she fears for her safety... and sanity. Because like many women, she suffers from post-partum depression, but for Margery in one of these states she saw a vision of Jesus which filled her soul and made her even more determined to travel to Jerusalem.  This is a story about her life, her friendship with Dame Julian of Norwich (an anchoress and well-regarded mystic), and her travels as a pilgrim in medieval Europe at the dawn of the Reformation.

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First off, I need to make it clear that this book is not non-fiction. It is a fictionalized account of Margery Kempe's life in much the same vein as Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and Jean Plaidy's novels. Which means it does take liberties with some of the facts and it has several imaginings that have little basis in fact. The author acknowledges this and even points out the inaccuracies in a postscript... which is honestly wonderful and I wish more authors did this.  It reminded me in many ways of Anya Seton's "Katherine" and Judith Merkle Riley's "Vision of LIght" so if you like that kind of book -- like I do -- then this is a book for you. 

Margery Kempe is a fascinating woman. She is credited as writing the first autobiography in English... a fact which cannot be overlooked. She completed several pilgrimages as a woman alone and even had to stand trial not once but twice for heresy. This was a Europe who was systematically crushing out the Lollards and anything or anyone who was considered "different" or who challenged the status quo.. and Margery certainly did that. 

The book does acknowledge that people are a product of their age. There's some definite sexism, misogyny, classism, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim sentiments displayed by characters in this book. It's period appropriate, unfortunately. But it is there and it can be hard to read. In particular the sexism faced by Margery and other women is a prominent theme in this book. 

The author has an engaging writing style that is approachable for most. Margery's voice is clear and distinct. She's a fun character as are the people surrounding her. In particular I liked Isa, her Muslim guide through the Holy Land, and Dame Julian herself. Both were real people, and interestingly both featured prominently in her actual autobiography. 

In all I enjoyed this book. It's perfect for fans of history who want a little meat in their story, but also want it to be light and refreshing. 

Five Stars.

I received an ARC of this book Via NetGalley
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Margery Kempe, the only daughter of the mayor of Bishop’s Lynn, England has made a tough decision in 1413. She has decided to leave her home, her husband, and her fourteen children to go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem as a way to honor her late father’s dying wishes. As she begins her journey, she meets the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich, who entrusts Margery with an important mission. She gives Margery her book Revelations of Divine Love and tells her to spread her message throughout the world in secret. Margery’s pilgrimage, her connection to Julian of Norwich, and the aftermath of her journey are intricately woven together in Mary Sharratt’s stunning novel, “Revelations”. 

I would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this novel, I was intrigued. I have heard the names Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich floating around in recent years, but I sadly knew nothing about their life stories. I hoped that this novel would shed some light on both women and why they are remembered in such high regard today. 

Sharratt’s novel is based on the research of historians, such as Dr. Janina Ramirez, who have argued that Margery Kempe knew Julian of Norwich and that Julian gave Margery her precious book Revelations of Divine Love. Margery is no ordinary woman as she has visions that will guide her to the path in which she believes God has chosen for her. 

We begin with Margery as a young maiden, who has no desire to marry the man that her family has told her to marry. Reluctantly, she does marry John Kempe and they have fourteen children together. It is during the birth of her fourteenth child, Margery almost dies and so she decided to make a vow of celibacy, which her husband reluctantly agrees to. It was not until her father’s death that Margery chooses to fulfill his dream for her, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since John chose not to go on pilgrimage with his wife, she decides to don the clothes of a bride of Christ, which means to dress all in white as a virgin. 

Many believe that Margery’s visions, her sudden bursts of tears, and her choice to leave her family make her an evil woman. Except for Julian of Norwich, the famed anchoress, and someone who understood Margery’s struggles. Since Julian could not walk away from her duty as an anchoress to explore the world, she gave Margery the treacherous task of carrying her book throughout the world, giving it only those scholars who could be trusted with the knowledge of this scandalous text. 

Margery’s journey to discover who she was meant to be is deep and riveting. It showed how even in the early 1400s, there was a struggle between different views of Christianity. From women accused of preaching in the streets to those accused of Lollardy, there was a real sense of danger and death for those who did not follow the status quo. Sharratt shows the dangers that a woman faced when she traveled on pilgrimage alone, but she also showed how deep Margery’s faith was and how willing she was to make sure that her message was heard. If I did have a small concern, it would be that I wish Sharratt delved into the writing of Margery Kempe’s autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe. 

As someone who has never read anything about Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe, I found this novel enchanting. This was the first novel that I have read by Mary Sharratt and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a delightful escape into the past and the life of a friendship and a pilgrimage that would change the life of Margery Kempe forever. If this sounds intriguing to you, check out “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt.
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I received this from Netgalley.com.

Margery Kempe the "earliest known woman author, a fascinating and contradictory figure, and a most unique personality".

Interesting book with many historical figures mentioned. I haven't read too much about this era and found this absorbing and informative.

3.75☆
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This story dealing with almost the mystic "Margery Kempe" and Julian set in the 15th century deal with the prejudices faced by women in their daily life as housewives, wives and mothers and more importantly if they sought a spiritual life as well. Lollardy was a feared aspect of life and anyone found preaching, or even out of the ordinary in a spiritual sense was suspect and Margery Kempe ticked off all the boxes.

A mother of fourteen children, leaving her husband on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and all alone was thought to be mad and someone who should be brought in line. She faced persecution of the worst kind but her faith was strong and she pursued a journey which was so fabulous, so fraught with danger at every turn that even today most people would have given up at the first hurdle.

The story was a fascinating one of a woman who was definitely different and who sought the spiritual freedom she thought was her birthright. This was a fabulous read.
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Another interesting literary insight into the life revelations and historical times of St Julian of Norwich.
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"Revelations" is a delightful and very engrossing novel around the life of the 
early 15th century English mystic Margery Kemper, author of what is considered today the first autobiography ever written in the English language, a personal narrative about her eventful life as a wife and a mother (she gave birth to 14 children), her extensive pilgrimages to countless holy sites throughout Europe and the Holy Land, her spiritual relations and conversations with God and her relationship with another female mystic, the English anchorite Julian of Norwich. A beautiful story of late medieval Christian feminism full of beautiful  historical details about the spiritual world of the times and the place and influence of women in the Catholic Church. 
The reader shouldn't be expecting a very colorful historical novel full of twisty turns and adventures. This is an intellectual and thoughtful journey into the spiritual life of an incredible woman and a masterful portrait of European religious life and beliefs in the later part of the Middles Ages. Finally Revelations should not be compared with the silly 2010 movie Eat, pray, love. I don't know who comes up with that type of publicity gimmick but I honestly doubt that the novel deserves such an idiotic comparison....

Many thanks to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for giving me a opportunity to read this wonderful novel prior to its release date
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Living in Norfolk, we know about Julian of Norwich, who despite the name is female, Margaret Paston and her letters, but Margery Kempe is unknown. After reading this book I didn’t know which side to root for, Margery appears to be very 
headstrong, but the man ruled the household in the dates of this tale 1373-1438. 
Margery Brunham is the only daughter of a rich trader in Bishop’s Lynn, now known as Kings Lynn. John Kempe is her fathers dearest friend, is 36, and a childless widower, he seeks to marry Margery who is aged 20. 
14 children later, Margery has had enough. She declares a vow of chastity, and decamps to Norwich to see Dame Julian, an anchoress, who has written a book called The Revelations of Divine Love, in secret, and entrusts her precious book to Margery in the hope they will reach Holland and get this book printed. Margery will then continue on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 
Margery is a single minded woman, plain bossy, but believes she has earned the right to travel the world, life in Kings Lynn is very restrictive. It hasn’t changed much over the centuries!!  14 children borne, some died, she pays off her husband’s debts and away she goes. That is either brave or foolhardy. She seeks the permission of the Bishop of Lincoln to wear the apparel of a nun for protection and visits Holland, Venice, Jaffa, and finally reaches the Holy Land. In 1417, she reaches Santiago. 
After returning home and nursing her dying husband, she travels again to Poland, where she wrote her story, The Book of Margery Kempe. 
Margery packed a lot into her life. Was she right to abandon her children and travel on a pilgrimage? The concept of childhood is a modern institution, it may have been quite acceptable for parents to leave their large broods to be either at court or travel. She was a resourceful lady, she set up her own brewery to keep the family fed and clothed, her husband was not good at figures. 
It was a really fascinating account of life in the fifteenth century, and the part that religion played in the life of the common folk. This was the time of religious persecution, the Lollards, who believed that everyone had the right to preach and spread the word of God. Many brave parish priests had been burnt at the stake for denying the sacred right of only the church having the ability to preach. 
It told us much about the heavy burden placed upon women, bearing children , working,shopping, educating the young, whilst all the time being respectful to their husbands and turning over all their dowry to the husband, who had the right to chastise any wrong doing. Marital rape is far from being a new phenomena!! 
It is lovely to redress the balance and read about some really strong minded and principled women. I read the first book Illuminations, also about a religious mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, and the amount of research that went into both books is amazing. Should be on every library shelf, I will definitely recommend this book, will have to wait for libraries to reopen!, 
I have rated this a five star read. It delighted me and I have learned so much about Margery Kempe. More powerful women please, let’s redress the balance. I look forward to other books. 
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for my ARC, freely given in exchange for my honest review. I will leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon later.
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