On 5th-7th April, Dr Laura Varnam (University College) co-hosted a landmark conference in Oxford with Dr Laura Kalas Williams (Swansea University). ‘Margery Kempe Studies in the 21st Century’ was the first conference to be focused exclusively on the fifteenth-century mystic Margery Kempe and her Book.
The three day conference at Univ featured keynote talks from leading Kempe experts and twenty-four papers and brought together delegates from across the world- America, Australia, Europe, Japan- to reassess The Book of Margery Kempe from a range of perspectives. Modern approaches such as queer theory, disability studies, and performance theory cast new light on the representation of Margery in her Book and new historical documents and discoveries were revealed which ground Kempe more firmly in her fifteenth-century context, both in England and abroad.
The conference also included innovative and creative responses to the Book. The University College chapel played host to a powerful and moving dramatization of the meeting between Margery Kempe and her fellow female mystic Julian of Norwich, ‘Marge & Jules’, written and performed by Sarah Anson and Mairin O’Hagan. Food history also played an important role as Dr Kalas Williams revealed the recipe of medicinal sweets inscribed at the back of the Kempe manuscript and Dr Theresa Tyers (Swansea University) produced the sweets so that they could be tasted by delegates, for the first time in four hundred years.
At the conference, Dr Varnam and Dr Kalas Williams launched the Margery Kempe Society which is dedicated to supporting and promoting the study and teaching of Margery Kempe and her Book. The Society website will be a space to share research and resources, and for guest blogposts on Kempe: https://margerykempesociety.network/
This major international conference marks a turning point in Kempe studies and demonstrates the Book’s vital importance to medieval literary scholarship in the twenty-first century.
The programme and abstracts can be found on the conference website here: https://margerykempeconference.wordpress.com/
The conference was generously supported by the University of Oxford's John Fell Fund; University College, Oxford; the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship; and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature.