Perhaps the first autobiography ever written in English, this book contains the life story of the female mystic, Margery Kempe, who lived from c. 1373 to c. 1440. It survives in only one known manuscript, written at about the time of her death, owned by the Butler Bowden family. When Colonel W. Butler Bowden was looking for a bat in a cupboard he came across a pile of old books, and threatened to put the whole lot on the bonfire. A friend advised him to have them checked by an expert and Hope Emily Allen identified one as the ‘Book of Margery Kempe’, previously known only from excerpts printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1501, and by Henry Pepwell in 1521 (where the author is described as ‘a devoute ancres’). A true miracle!
What a shocking book cover! I have not seen it before. Anyway, Greene sets the story just as the French are losing Indo-China and the Americans are stepping in. It is a brilliant and cynical observation of empire and national ambition at the cost of individual liberty and conscience. Or something.