If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would be the first person to raise her hand in every lecture, and would without fail email you afterwards to ask extra questions.

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would follow up her initial email with an anxious second message if you didn’t reply within the hour.

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would always be the first person waiting outside your door during office hours. After a while you would ask her to come at the end of your office hours to give other students a fighting chance of actually speaking with you.

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature’s fellow undergraduates would avoid sitting next to her because of her tendency to sob during class discussions.

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would never shy away from arguing with undergraduate men who dismiss gender theory as a waste of time. Sometimes she would cry when asking them to check their privilege; you would privately admire the way she would have no shame about crying over things that mattered.

If Margery Kempe were your student, the colleague who taught her last semester would have warned you that this poor creature was “feisty”. You would smile and politely ask him if he’d ever described a male undergraduate that way. He would chuckle indulgently: oh, feminists!

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would submit tear-stained essays that nonetheless engaged convincingly with the primary texts. She would fiercely critique established scholars in a way that probably got her called feisty by your colleagues. You would give her an A.

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would have a Dead Historical Boyfriend she would bring up in every.single.class and assignment, regardless of relevance. This is why she wouldn’t get an A+ on her essays. She would cry about that in your office hour, but she would never, ever try to negotiate for a higher grade.

If Margery Kempe were your student, this poor creature would be a mother with a full-time job who would nonetheless turn up earlier to class and submit essays more promptly than any of your other students.

If Margery Kempe were your student, at the end of the semester this poor creature would deliver you a heartfelt handcrafted card explaining why your module had changed her life, and you would feel briefly guilty about the involuntary eye roll you’d developed every time her name popped up under new mail in your inbox.

If Margery Kempe were your student, you would feel a little relieved to pass this poor creature onto another colleague next semester; but that homemade thank you card would stay on your pinboard way beyond the end of the academic year.

***

Inspired by this marvellous post, “If Julian of Norwich Were Your Professor”, of course. It’s been a little while since I’ve been a student, but of course I teach regularly these days, and this idea came instantly to mind.

On a tyme, as this creatur was at Cawntyrbery in the cherch among the monkys, sche was gretly despysed and reprevyd for cawse sche wept so fast bothyn of the monkys and prestys and of seculer men ner al a day bothe afornoon and aftyrnoon…

Margery is a character I found faintly embarrassing – if intriguing – as an undergraduate, and of whom I’ve grown ever-fonder as the years have passed. When I was aged twenty or so, Margery’s histrionics made her seem like the kind of woman who “lets the side down”; despite many of my favourite literary and historical characters being women of passion (think Jane Eyre), Margery’s fangirlish passion for Jesus and propensity to ugly cry at the drop of a hat were too easy to dismiss as immature and irrational. In hindsight, of course, it was a reaction against the way women are caricatured, and like many young women I thought the antidote to that was to be rational, impartial, objective. In the years since then I’ve come to have rather a different opinion on the value of objectivity and the necessity of passion. Of course I still think Margery would probably have been an impossibly frustrating person to know; but I have wholehearted admiration for her courage.

[Read the full Book of Margery Kempe and get a great scholarly introduction to her work here.]

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