Domestic Mysticism in Margery Kempe and Dame Julian of Norwich. The Transformation of Christian Spirituality in the Late Middle Ages

Price:$199.95 + shipping
(Click the PayPal button to buy)
By using the familial relationship as a referent for their metaphors, mystics speak of the ways in which they understand God’s motherhood, fatherhood, childhood, brotherhood, sisterhood and spousehood. In the same way, these mystics indicate the spiritual possibilities of family relationships. Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe use metaphorical discourse that creates familial relationships between themselves and God, their community, and ultimately, their readers. For these mystics interested in seeing God in the everyday, the divine and secular cannot be separated.


“The “writings” of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich are impressive for many reasons, not to mention that these women appropriate a medium of expression determined and defined by male mystics and manage to feminize that discourse.…Roman’s study begins with the hypothesis that Margery and Julian domesticate the mystic tradition by taking terminology used to describe family relationships and domestic spaces and reconfiguring it for spiritual purposes. His argument is that both writers use this terminology to articulate a spiritual reality—and create a spiritual and familial bond with the Trinity.… In the end, Roman confirms the hypothesis that sets him out on his study. Margery and Julian appropriate the discourse and language of male mystics, and destabilize it to serve their decidedly feminine purposes. Roman perceptively uncovers how the power of Julian’s and Margery’s mystical writing stems from a decidedly domestic domain. In so doing Roman demonstrates how these writers struggle to put into material terms the spiritual and ineffable. Christopher Roman’s study will be a welcomed addition to the critical dialogue surrounding the work of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich. It also could set the terms for that dialogue for the next several years."- (From the Commendatory Foreword) Joseph Hornsby, Associate Professor of English, University of Alabama

“In this book, Christopher Roman examines metaphors of family and domestic life as they are reconfigured for spiritual purposes by two of England’s most important female mystics, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Tracing the language of English mysticism from both earlier male mystics (Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing) and the larger Western Christian tradition, Roman demonstrates how Julian and Margery “domesticate” the genre through their emphasis on familial terms, including “father,” “mother,” “spouse,” and “lover.” While other critics have focused primarily on the feminization of the mystic experience (particularly the emphasis on God as Mother), Roman is careful to examine the whole context of the familial references in these texts, including not only a balancing discussion of God as Father, but also an overview of how various aspects of the family are described in literary sources of the period (Langland, Chaucer, and the Pearl poet). Most importantly, he discovers a fluidity in relationship roles, one that allows both of these female mystics to translate real-life experience into new ways of speaking about their understanding of spirituality. Roman’s analysis of the texts themselves reveals important differences in the familial metaphors used by Julian, an anchorite whose enclosure informs her understanding of the interlocking Trinity, and those used by Margery, who is concerned with spiritualizing her life in domestic and public spaces … Roman clearly demonstrates, “for these mystics interested in seeing God in the everyday, the divine and secular cannot be separated,” a point that is amply illustrated in his detailed and wide-ranging analyses of their writings and practices.” – Kristen Figg, Professor of English, Kent State University-Salem

Table of Contents

Foreword by Joseph Hornsby
1. The Discourse of Late Medieval Mysticism: Metaphors and the Ineffable
2. Spirituality and the Medieval Family
3. The Integration of Divine Parenthood in The Shewings of Julian of Norwich
4. “Crescite et multiplicamini”: The Growing Spiritual Family in The Book of Margery Kempe

Other Medieval Studies Books