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Reforming the reading woman : tradition and transition in Tudor devotional literature Willems, Katherine Elizabeth

Abstract

This thesis outlines two distinct modes of early sixteenth-century devotional practice (image-based and text-oriented), which in the context of the English reformation are increasingly represented as antithetical to one another, as Protestants champion the vernacular Bible and creed-based Christianity, while suppressing "idolatrous" images and traditional practices. Women readers, who tend to be vernacular readers, figure prominently in the religious controversy, and come to represent both the distinctives of Protestantism and anxieties around vernacular readership and hermeneutic agency. The vernacular woman reader stands in direct opposition to the priestly authority of masculine, Latin clerical culture; accordingly she is both rhetorically useful to the Protestant cause and a locus of cultural instability. I then turn to consider female Tudor translators as reading women, and translation itself (rather than a type of "feminine" writing) as a form of meditative or proclamatory reading. While translation has a traditional association with the meditative devotional reader, the religious controversy makes possible a more public and polemically motivated sort of translation by women, which, however, remains framed largely in terms of personal devotional activity. As the number of literate women grows throughout the century, translation (with reading) is also increasingly represented as a means of keeping women out of trouble, a development which reflects the growing acceptance of the Protestant contention that a good woman is a reading woman. The epistolary culture of the persecuted Marian Protestant community illustrates the construction of a community of readers in the Protestant language of spiritual family, and the role of the reading woman in sustaining that community. My concluding chapter outlines the continuing construction of a textual community of exemplary foremothers, a tradition of "godly, learned women," in which the virtuous woman reader is expected to participate. This distinctly Protestant pattern of literate female piety, alongside a growing number of women readers in Elizabethan England, increasingly shapes cultural ideals of female virtue.

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