The Nun (La Religieuse) – Denis Diderot

This is an interesting novella, written in the form of a letter, by a nun to someone she hopes will help her break the vows which she took by force.

The young French girl, Suzanne, is a victim of circumstances, hated by her family through no fault of her own, and forced to enter a convent. She takes the orders against her wishes although she realizes she has no vocation.

“The contrast between his eulogy and the public demonstration I was about to make disconcerted me, I had moments of misgiving, but not for long, for it made me realize all the more that I lacked the qualities required to make a good nun.”

At the convent she falls into the bad books of the Mother Superior and is abused horrifically, sadistically even. Some of the methods the nuns used to abuse her were pretty shocking.

The book is not an attack on Catholicism by any means; Suzanne never loses her faith despite her ordeals. What it is is an attack on the “unnatural” atmosphere of a cloister.  It brings to the forefront  the awful practice of forcing young girls into convents, often when they were as young as 15 (too young to really know what was going on).  Truly, Diderot paints convent life in the most awful way. The convent conditions sound dreadful and don’t seem to be conducive to growth or anything remotely positive.

“I have plenty of courage, but no courage in the world can hold out in the face of neglect, solitude and persecution.”

I think it was an interesting read for me as I had always assumed that convents wouldn’t be such places of pettiness, and that relations between nuns would be civil at least. Alas, this was not the case in this book.


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