Among vernacular religious manuals composed for women in the fourteenth century, Book to a Mother takes the unusual position of rejecting cloistered life for a widow's emulation and presents an alternative program of reading based on love and imitatio Christi. This essay reexamines Book to a Mother's adaptation of allegories of the cloister and its transformation of clerical practices of reading alongside lollard polemical writings that also sidestep priestly authority and institutional religion in Christian life. Although Book's use of polemical discourse has been downplayed or treated as separate from its devotional aims, this essay argues that Book combines devotion and dissent to empower the mother's reading, preaching, and living, and that such a dialogue is characteristic of lollard forms of living. In its attention to polemic, this analysis is significant for understanding the history of vernacular theologies and their experimentation with different rhetorical modes for reshaping belief and practice.

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