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The Middle Dutch sister-books and The Book of Margery Kempe are fifteenth-century vernacular texts by women chronicling their female subjects’ conversion and arduous attempts at a holy life. They share an (auto)hagiographic enterprise and formal and thematic features, including a display of rags and riches by the vitae’s subjects and a desire for mnemonic engagement on the part of the readers with the text. This article is the first to present the Diepenveen and Deventer sister-books and the Book as conversation partners. I draw on two main conceptual tools: 1) medieval memoria and 2) the notion of “dissimilar similitude” (the idea that likeness can be evoked through difference), coined by early-medieval mystical theorist Pseudo-Dionysius. These allow us to examine the texts’ conspicuous parading of wealth and poverty and the associated interplay between interiority and exteriority as proxies for piety versus worldliness and other supposed oppositions. I argue that the sisters’ and Margery’s clothes serve as dissimilar similitudes of Christ during his Passion. As such, they fashion a communal memory of the texts’ idealized textual communities (earlier sisters for the sister-books and other holy women for the Book), in which the community functions as a dissimilar similitude of Christ as well. However, friction between materiality and significance also sets some women apart in the communal memory, bringing a risk of exclusion. Moreover, the sisters’ and Margery’s clothes diverge in their memorial affordances: in the sister-books, both ragged and rich dress supply dissimilar similitudes, while in the Book, only Margery's sumptuous dress can serve as a dissimilar similitude; her rags fail to accomplish this signification. Unravelling these textiles of interiorization and exteriorization unveils how texts by medieval women negotiate gendered associations of somatic devotion and redraw the boundaries of their communities.


This discussion results from the MSCA-IF project: “Women Making Memories: Liturgy and the Remembering Female Body in Medieval Holy Women’s Texts.” This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 842443.


Margery Kempe, Devotio Moderna, sister-books, memoria, somatic devotion, dissimilar similitudes, clothing