Cover Image: Revelations

Revelations

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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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As a reader it was hard to decide how I felt about this book. On one side, I could not care less about what happened to Margaery Kempe. That inability to connect with the main character made me struggle at times to get through the book. On the other side, Sharratt writes an intriguing tale. I empathized with how Kempe was treated by her husband and the fact that she bore so many children. I was however unable to embrace her decision to leave her family in order to seek her own inner peace. I have not read many books regarding mystics and am hesitant to embrace the practice behind labeling people as such. That being said, Sharratt does an incredible job at describing what that experience could be like. 
Sharratt's writing also exhibits the amount of research she dedicated to ensuring this book was accurate. Reading about the pilgrimages that Kempe went on was fascinating. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, such as Julian of Norwich and the Lollards. This is a slow read with a character that some readers may have a hard time connecting with. However I believe that Sharratt once again delivers in highlighting the life of a female religious figure that has been largely forgotten over time. 
I received a copy of this title via NetGalley.
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I absolutely loved this book. Years ago, I read the works of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe -- both British women of the 14th century) in a women's literature class in college. What absolutely fascinating women. Revelations turns their stories (focusing on Margery's) into a really compelling work of fiction. Margery in particular becomes "relatable" without losing the rigor of the analysis and storytelling. Did a particularly attractive Jesus really visit Margery's bed from time to time to order her to go on pilgrimages? Or was Margery desperate to have a break from her 14 children? Who knows? But Mary Sharratt does a beautiful job of exploring her story.
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I'll publish a review in the Historical Novel Review, spring edition.

I'm a religious historian, so I was excited about this book. The female mystics of the middle ages are revolutionary and important and neglected. I thought this book would focus more on Julian of Norwich, since the title is REVELATIONS, but it focuses more on Margery Kempe, who was known for her pilgrimages and trial for heresy.

The book tells about Margery's unhappy marriage, connection to Julian of Norwich, pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Spain, and trial for heresy. It is based on Margery's own book about herself, which she dictated to a priest (most historians think she was illiterate).

Other than following Margery's life, the book didn't have much plot. The Spanish pilgrimage was anti-climactic after Jerusalem. The author easily could have taken liberties with her source material to form it into a more compelling story. Margery's visions fell flat for me; again, I think the author could have embellished to make them come alive in the senses.

But my biggest gripe with this book is that the publisher is advertising it as "a 15th-century EAT PRAY LOVE." I have nothing against that book, but the phrase has become shorthand for a frivolous "finding oneself" for modern women. That downplays the revolutionary nature of Margery and Julian's actions. But I guess if it sells books...
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I feel like this book has a very limited audience. However I am planning to purchase it for my library because of the lack of historical fiction set in this time period. I have a few patrons who enjoyed Hild by Nicola Griffith & having read both myself, I think that if they liked Hild, they would like this book as well.
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Margery Kempe (1373-1438) was “a mystic living in the full stream of worldly life – she triumphed in transforming herself from a desperate housewife into an intrepid world traveler and lifelong pilgrim.”

England, 1392. Margery is a daughter of a trader. At the age of nineteen, the seas claim the man she loves. Thus, she marries a man her family picks for her, almost twice her age, to avoid cloistered life. Life behind the walls is not meant for her. She knows that there is so much more beyond some walls or beyond her town of Lynn. She has seen York and she craves to explore other places.

While continuously giving births and to keep herself sane, she makes “weekly visits to Master Alan, the holy and high-learned anchorite who reads” books to her and feeds her mind and spirit. Now pregnant with her fourteenth child, her visions which started with her first birth have intensified strongly and she can’t stop them. She feels that she needs to act on it. And fearing that another pregnancy might kill her, she makes a vow of celibacy.

She becomes a pilgrim and her pilgrimage takes her to Norwich to Dame Julian, an anchoress. Margery kept her visions to herself as she was afraid to be called mad, but in the company of Dame Julian she feels safe to reveal her visions. In return, Julian entrusts Margery with a book of her own revelations. As Margery continues her pilgrimage to Jerusalem at certain stops certain people copy what she carries with her. These are dangerous times, when church tries to get rid of Lollards, punishing those who follow the words of John Wycliffe, who “openly preached against the sale of indulgences. (…) He refused to submit to the prelates. He appealed to Christ alone as the supreme judge.” Those who call upon Christ’s authority above a prelate are in grave danger.

I enjoyed Margery’s journey of self-discovery and transformation. Her pilgrimage puts her on a path of great discovery, of exotic places such as Venice, and of high-learned women and girls. With her eyes wide open to a different world, she sees “a window into the East.” What she rebuked as a young woman, now she greatly admires. Seeing educated women, she questions her own decision. “Their holy calling had elevated them to this sanctuary where their intellects could flourish.”

It was interesting to read about beguines. A community of women, some virgins, some widows, that offered them something between marriage and becoming a cloistered nun.

The story is vividly presented. You witness some terror with your own eyes and smell the flesh of a burning body. You get comfortable with Ignatius, assisting pilgrims across Christendom. You get swept away to a time when women had very little choice in their lives and yet some show us a meaningful path. You can feel the strong-will of Margery and her spirit for exploring the world. She is so happy to visit Danzig and York and craves to see so much more. Her character with other women are all touchingly depicted.

Richly imagined story, engrossingly woven and with beautiful prose transports a reader to a different time and place. With heroine you deeply care for and witness her journey of self-discovery and transformation.
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Revelations by Mary Sharratt brings to vivid life Margery Kemp and her world with all its riotous color, conflicting religious beliefs, deadly perils, saints and sinners. In Sharratt’s skillful re-imagining of Kemp’s travels and travails she gives us a Margery Kemp who is not only wife, mother, steadfast pilgrim, and surely one of the most remarkable women of her time, but also an implausible yet endearing heroine. Sometimes incredible, sometimes bizarre, Revelations is a fascinating journey into both the medieval world and the medieval mind.
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While I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style of this book I could not get into the story line.  
I thank the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to review this book.
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Revelations is a profound, moving novel, one that honors its main character as author Mary Sharratt fleshes out the flawed and fantastic figure of Margery Kempe. 

I read The Book of Margery Kempe (Margery’s dictated autobiography) a few years ago, and found her simultaneously grating and inspiring. This fascinating woman left her family to travel across Christendom on pilgrimage, seeking both divine grace and societal freedom as she moved farther from her confining role as a wife ravaged by fourteen pregnancies and  the scorn of her local community. Sharratt draws on what is known about Margery and spins an engrossing tale of female tenacity and medieval mysticism. Margery’s vivid divine visions (true to the sources) and her deep connection to with the famed anchored Julian of Norwich add rich layers to her journey — along with the resonating themes of class and gender. 

5/5: An excellent and imaginative take on one of the foremost mystics of the late Middle Ages. Such a compelling story, and one I hope those not familiar with Margery Kempe will still seek out. Her faith is conveyed in a way that I think would appeal to those of varying beliefs (I am not religious and really enjoyed it). But I’m definitely going to go recommend this to all the medievalists I know. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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Excellent historical fiction. A reminder of the restrictions of women in history and the destruction of religions indigenous to Europe.
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3.5 rounded up

I'm not a big reader of historical fiction, but the blurb - which describes this as "a kind of 15th-century Eat Pray Love" - jumped out at me. It transpires that this (while a quite funny way of describing the novel) is a pretty accurate description in some ways.

Sharratt's novel tells the partially fictionalised version of a wholly true story, that of Margery Kempe and is based on Kempe's own book The Book of Margery Kempe, held to be the first autobiography written in the English language.

Kempe was from Bishop's Lynn, Norfolk (now King's Lynn), who, after meeting Julian of Norwich (who was the first woman to write a book in English), decides to travel to Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage. I don't want to spoil too much of the story, but Kempe had lead a relatively normal life up until embarking on this journey, having 14 children, and the novel tells the story of how she was vilified for falling outside of what society expected of women at this time. 

Margery's book was lost for over five centuries before being discovered by accident at a country house party in Derbyshire in 1934. And what great fortune that is was re-discovered! Sharratt weaves a fascinating tale of Margery's life, most of which is taken from Margery's own writing. The setting was vividly realised, and the story fast-paced. I find the old words and convoluted ways of phrasing things often used in historical fiction to be off-putting, but this wasn't the case here.

Recommended!
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We need more novels that breath new life into the stories of courageous women of ages gone by. Margery Kempe was a little known late medieval woman until the manuscript of her life was found disintegrating at an old English estate in the 1930s, and now the world knows her story. Mary Sharratt's exceptional historical novels have brought to life several of these women's stories, and I eagerly grabbed this early galley to devour it. Margery Kempe was the life of many medieval women: born to drudgery and witness to plague upon plague, bearing child after child until death came knocking, and many more horrors. Margery's zeal for life and adventure, buoyed by a strong faith and revelations of divine love, spurred her to become a pilgrim in an era where a woman alone did not make pilgrimages. She is no wilting flower in the face of danger--she uses her voice to stand up for herself and for others. Sharratt doesn't impose 21st century character traits on Margery; she uses the original source material to enhance this almost unbelievable story that deserves a wide audience, men and women included. A breathtaking adventure that shines with hope and faith in the midst of immense struggle.
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I enjoyed this story because it showed the power the church had in everyone's daily lives in those times. Most people of those days didn’t travel much farther than the next village, so the travels Margery made were not very common.

It also shows how women were viewed and how little power they had. I like Margery, she had strong beliefs and went with those beliefs and I could fault her for making choices for herself.
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I started reading this book out of sheer interest as to how the author would portray Margery Kempe. I've known the story of the weepingly irritating pilgrim being shunned and deserted by her fellows and I couldn't see how her story could be made 'attractive'. Well I was gripped. I loved it. The whole turn around that her acting as a 'fool for God' that allowed her to carry secret tracts is delightful and completely plausible. Mary Sharratt's writing (this is the first book I've read of hers but it won't be last) is wonderful. It flows with ease and full of information without overloading the reader with true and pertinent facts. I loved this book and I may well read it again. If I could I would give it 6 stars.
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I really enjoyed this book. It was well written and totally engaging. I found it hard to put down. It was interesting to learn about some of the many places described and to gain insight into the conflicts that plagued the Christian world at the time. 

Occasionally, I found the feminist agenda a bit over the top and I wondered if there wasn't a bit too much 21st century mindset being imposed on a woman who was quite liberated for her time. Did Margery really think of G-d as "Mother"? Was her attitude toward childbearing so negative? I'm tempted to read the source autobiography myself in order to get a clearer picture of who Margery really was. 

I did sometimes find the characters too black and white – all good or all evil. Reality often is more in shades of grey.

Another thing that bothered me was that I found some of Margery’s character flaws to be at odds with her image as a pious, holy woman. She could show a shocking lack of Christian charity. For example, (SPOILER ALERT!) She drags her serving woman, Nell, with her on pilgrimage. She claims to regret this, but she presents it as if there was no choice. No choice? She could have asked her, and if Nell didn't want to go with her, she could have looked to hire someone who would go willingly. Far worse, when Nell finally lands on her feet and makes a decent marriage, Margery's first words to her are, "I thought you were a ruined woman." She then almost ruins Nell's life and that of her innocent baby by asking if the baby isn't Hugh's - and all this in front of Nell's maid. I should think that Margery would be happy that Nell escaped the fate of being hitched to Hugh. I would have expected her to tell Nell how happy she was for her. I realize that Nell had once done something nasty to her, under Hugh's influence, but I should expect a pious woman to be more charitable and forgiving. 

Another example is how she relates to Hester, another serving woman with whom her husband had relations in her absence. Her first reaction is to be thankful to G-d that there is someone else to satisfy her husband's sexual needs. But instead of going with that, she ignores Hester and "brusquely pushes past her." In her place, I would have thanked her, and I would have asked my husband to treat her kindly and to care for her child. 

Another way that she is uncharitable is that she often attributes negative motives to people, even though people's motives are often mixed. She wonders if her husband kept Hester out of Christian charity, or guilt, or out of affection, but she concludes that she thinks that in truth, it was to humiliate her. Given four possible motives, she chooses the worst - and a rather egocentric one at that. Later, when she is given a purse heavy with gold by her son-in-law to help her go on another pilgrimage, she makes it clear that she thinks his only motive was to get her out of his house. 

Seeing others in a negative light is especially striking in her descriptions of her husband. She herself admits to sometimes being sexually attracted to a good-looking man, but her husband's appetite is invariably termed "lust", even for their relations within the marriage. Was this how the real Margery saw things? I realize that sexual arousal is generally considered one of the seven deadly sins in Catholicism, but it is not considered a sin within the sanctity of marriage. And if Margery describes sexual arousal as lust in her husband, then Margery’s being attracted to Isa should be presented in an equally negative light.

Whether it was the real Margery, or the Margery recreated by the author, I felt rather sorry for John Kempe. He had no idea what he was getting into when he married her, and ended up ties to a wife who had declared herself celebrate in a society in which there was no divorce and no legitimate way for him to satisfy his needs for intimacy. And there are her children. Couldn't she have waited until they reached their preteens before going on a two-year pilgrimage? Her being "free and untethered" is fine for her, but I think she could have given a little bit more thought to how others were affected by her choices. Of course, the writer can’t change the actions of the historical Margery, and I wonder how much the original autobiography deals with these issues. 


All in all, engaging and interesting as one can see from the length of my review and the interest it has sparked in me to read the original autobiography.
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Revelations by Mary Sharratt is an excellent historical fiction that is based on the true life and experiences of the once-forgotten Margery Kempe. This is a wonderful glimpse into the 1400s England. Everything about this book, this journey, resonates with me.

First off, I had to do research after reading this book, as I have never heard of Margery Kempe before and found it fascinating that the pages from the author of the first female “autobiography” was unearthed less then 100 years ago. This is fascinating. To get this kind of a  window into history is astounding. 

The author clearly did her research, and there were times when I literally felt as if I was traveling along with Margery. The dirt, the smells, the landscapes, it was all there. Not only did I get a glimpse into this time period, but I also got a closer look at this interesting woman. By her descriptions, her trials, her fears, hopes and sacrifices, I was able to piece together the societal rules and restrictions that tethered women. It was hard to see how difficult life truly was, how unfair, and I found myself rooting for Margery and her quests and travels, hoping that she would fulfill her purpose and find what she was ultimately looking for. 

Just stunning. A must read for anyone that enjoys strong female characters and medieval English history.

5/5 stars

Thank you NetGalley and Houghton Miffilin Harcourt for this wonderful ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 4/27/21.
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The title of this astounding novel about the life of Margery Kempe (c.1373-c.1440) is taken from the classic of mediaeval religious literature ’Revelations of Divine Love’ by Julian of Norwich.

And what a revelation it is! Based on the protagonist’s own book – ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ – said to be the earliest surviving autobiography in English, this book has taught me so much about the times and how some women, always at risk of being labelled heretics, managed to lead life more or less on their own terms. I learnt about the Beguines, for example: laywomen who led a quasi-monastic life as an economically active collective – feared by the local tradesmen who saw their high quality work as a threat.

You can smell the middle ages and some sections made me feel very itchy indeed!

We’re rooting for Margery all the way, from leaving her circumscribed life – and children – in Norfolk, to her journey across Europe (where she is usually more in danger from fellow pilgrims that bandits) to her arrival in the Holy Land. Then, as now, a woman who steps outside the norms forfeits the right to dignity and respect, although it must be said she meets kindly, supportive men, too, even among men of the church whose colleagues would burn her as soon as look at her.

Throughout her travels and trials, Margery continues to doubt her visions and crying fits: are they truly a gift from God or are they another form of madness, like the psychosis that followed the birth of the first of her fourteen children?

I thought I might tire of Margery’s voice as she tells her own story, but instead it has inspired me to learn more about this remarkable woman – browbeaten wife and mother, enterprising businesswoman, pilgrim and visionary – and I plan to read her original dictated original autobiography – and more by this fabulous author.

I’m very grateful to NetGalley for letting me read this book as a digital proof in exchange for an honest review.
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