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Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in English


The British Library has digitised the sole surviving original copy of the first autobiography written in English – The Book of Margery Kempe, reports The Guardian. It owns the only known copy of the book, describing  Kempe’s life and travels in England and abroad, including her pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. You can now browse through 264 images online.

Modern reprints of The Book of Margery Kempe are easy to find but collectors might be interested in the Folio Society’s 2004 edition (pictured right) of this historic text.

Kempe, who had 14 children before becoming a medieval globetotter, dictated her story to a priest, but details of her book were only known through excerpts printed in 1501. A complete copy of the original manuscript was discovered in a cupboard in 1934 in Derbyshire. It was almost burned during a tidy-up.

The author lived in Norfolk during the late 14th and early 15th centuries.
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