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Using printed and manuscript texts composed between 1575 and 1672, Jennifer Heller defines the genre of the mother's legacy as a distinct branch of the advice tradition in early modern England that takes the form of a dying mother's pious counsel to her children. Reading these texts in light of specific cultural contexts, social trends, and historical events, Heller explores how legacy writers used the genre to secure personal and family status, to shape their children's beliefs and behaviors, and to intervene in the period's tumultuous religious and political debates.

The author's attention to the fine details of the period's religious and political swings, drawn from sources such as royal proclamations, sermons, and first-hand accounts of book-burnings, creates a fuller context for her analysis of the legacies. Similarly, Heller explains the appeal of the genre by connecting it to social factors including mortality rates and inheritance practices. Analyses of related genres, such as conduct books and fathers' legacies, highlight the unique features and functions of mothers' legacies. Heller also attends to the personal side of the genre, demonstrating that a writer's education, marriages, children, and turns of fortune affect her work within the genre.

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