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Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  228 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
The discovery of the fascinating and richly documented story of Sister Benedetta Carlini, Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God, by Judith C. Brown was an event of major historical importance. Not only is the story revealed in Immodest Acts that of the rise and fall of a powerful woman in a church community and a record of the life of a religious visionary, it is also ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published December 11th 1986 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1985)
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The Men with the Pink Triangle by Heinz HegerThe Celluloid Closet by Vito RussoAnd the Band Played On by Randy ShiltsThe Mayor of Castro Street by Randy ShiltsHomosexuality & Civilization by Louis Crompton
LGBT History
16th out of 190 books — 33 voters
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Lesbian nuns in fiction and memoir
1st out of 4 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

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John David
In the year 1600, at the tender age of nine, Benedetta Carlini was sent to a nunnery in the small city of Pescia in north-central Italy. What today might be considered cruel and highly unusual was then a way for Benedetta’s somewhat well-to-do parents to provide their daughter with protection. After several years at the nunnery which Brown describes as fairly unremarkable, Benedetta began to have a series of increasingly disturbing visions, including being sexually harassed by demons. Sister Ben ...more
I read this kind of hoping for some picaresque escapades of a lesbian nun going on adventures around Renaissance Italy, but instead it wound up being a very sad story about a failed mystic who was accused by papal investigators of faking all of her visions and repeatedly raping her cell mate in her convent. Bummer.

Judith Brown's microhistory is a very interesting read on one hand, and it shines some interesting light on a woman who attempted to follow in the mystic tradition of celebrated saint
J.H. Everett
May 29, 2011 J.H. Everett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, anthropology
In Judith Brown’s Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, we are introduced to an early seventeenth century nun named Benedetta Carlini. As revealed in a review by Sofia Boesch-Gajano, Brown first became familiar with Carlini while researching Tuscan society, inadvertently coming upon a file dated 1619 - 1623 in the State Archives that described a woman who had supposedly been affected by supernatural/ divine spiritual events. The case spanned several years and two officia ...more
Felisa Rosa
Aug 23, 2009 Felisa Rosa rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
One doesn't expect an academic treatise on an early 17th century nunnery to be a quick read. I read Immodest Acts in three sittings, and the author, Judith Brown, doesn't even get around to the smutty parts until the last chapters. The book is a fascinating portrait of Benedetta Carlini, an Italian girl whose backwoods parents pledge her to convent life before her birth and then raise her to believe that she is a gift from god. After taking her vows, Benedetta begins to describe powerful and str ...more
East Bay J
Dec 15, 2007 East Bay J rated it liked it
Shelves: bios-and-memoirs
Immodest Acts, Judith C. Brown's study of Benedetta Carlini, a lesbian nun in 17th century Italy, is interesting and enlightening. A lot of fascinating ideas and concepts come to light while reading the story of a nun who became Abbess of her convent, made claims of holy visions and, all the while, carried on a lesbian affair with fellow nun, Bartolomea Crivelli. The peek into Church politics and the beliefs of the time is frightening but sometimes darkly humorous. More interesting than that is ...more
Brent Lambell
Jan 16, 2008 Brent Lambell rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book I went back to college to read - it deals with the historical story of a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy. The story comes to us from the Church's legal investigation, or inquisition, of heresies the nun was accused of committing. It is not a casual read, but for those willing to navigate the scholastic nature of the book it well worth the time.
Ariel Uppstrom
Jul 21, 2012 Ariel Uppstrom rated it really liked it
This book was fascinating! My mother found it at a book sale and picked it up because she knows I do GLBT work at my school and in my community.

The book is a non-fiction exploration of the life of a nun, Benedetta, during the 17th century. Born in 1590, her father promised her to God in order for his wife and child not to die in childbirth. The writer then follows Benedetta's progress through the convent in which she was placed at nine years old! Throughout her time in the convent, she was said
Immodest Acts is subtitled The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy—which, while intriguing and liable to make you pick it up in the bookstore, is unfortunately rather misleading. The majority of this slim book is focused not on the sexuality of Sister Benedetta Carlini, a seventeenth century abbess and mystic from the Tuscan town of Pescia, but rather on her quest for power and recognition as a mystic and her subsequent fall from grace. (Her alleged lesbian affair is discussed in about te ...more
Jun 14, 2007 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Immodest Acts tells the story of Sister Benedetta Carlini, a nun turned mystic and abbess in the early 17th century. Through investigation into Benedetta's alleged miracles, it is discovered that she has been using her position as a holy mystic and abbess to carry out an affair with another nun in the convent. Brown does a great job of putting the events of Benedetta's life in context (although in my opinion she puts a bit too much context, including much of her analysis of Benedetta's persona a ...more
Nov 03, 2014 Alison rated it really liked it
Wow. This was the craziest effing story I have ever read... and I suppose, more or less, based on the historical documents, it's true. The writing was actually very entertaining and wryly humorous for academic/historical writing. Plus, the entire story was maybe 140 pages so this was a very quick read. Still, I actually laughed out loud (in a dead silent library, no less) when the author started documenting miracles that happened in young Benedetta's life before she was sent to the convent: she ...more
Danika at The Lesbrary
The title is a little sensationalist: the same-sex relationship doesn't come up until near the end of the book, and it's not exactly "lesbian" (the nun has at least one other heterosexual relationship, and claims to be a male angel during the "lesbian" relationship). Still, an interesting read with lots of historical context. But it is more about a discredited mystic than it is about a lesbian. (More in depth review to come at the
Sarah Wagner
Sep 08, 2014 Sarah Wagner rated it really liked it
I read this book for a women's history class several years ago and I still think about the book from time to time - a sign of something really sticking with me. In addition to a juicy story, this book presents a detailed depiction of women's lives during this era and also a compelling picture of mysticism, which the central figure of this book corrupts to pursue her own path.
Feb 08, 2015 Gloria rated it liked it
History monographs are not always interesting. I find that one way to spice up history is to read a good microhistory, and this book does meet that requirement. The structure of the book is a little off because it begins with a historical introduction that outlines the Catholic Church's stand on same sex relationships and sodomy during the Renaissance, but then Brown completely abandons this line of thought for the majority of the book, and does not return to the subject until the end. At that p ...more
ONTD Feminism
Apr 21, 2010 ONTD Feminism rated it liked it
LJ user 102bb:

The book drags on sometimes, and the prose leaves a lot to be desired, but the sheer amount of information on women's sexuality during the renaissance makes up for it.
Apr 07, 2015 Siv30 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, lgbt
הוצאת חרגול, 2002, 184 עמ.

המחברת פרופ להיסטוריה, עמדה לסיים עריכת תיקונים בספר שכתבה על העיר פשיה בימי הרנסס. בעת חיפושיה אחר חומר כתוב, מצאה רישום בארכיון המדינה בפירנצה שהכיל את הכותרת :"משפט נגד הנזירה בנדטה קארליני מוולאנו אם המסדר של הנזירות התאטאניות בפשיה אשר התחזתה למיסטיקאית אך התגלתה כאישה חסרת מוסר".

הכותרת ריתקה את המחברת גם מאחר והניחה שהמלל "אישה חסרת מוסר" התייחס למעשי אהבהבים של עם גברים (דבר שהיה שכיח באותה התקופה).

אבל ציפתה לה הפתעה.

היא החלה לבחון את התיעוד שעמד בפניה, 100 עמודי
Feb 01, 2011 Marian rated it liked it
I am not used to reading religious history and am not sure how it is normally handled when dealing with visionaries and miracles. The author seemed to discount the possibility of their accuracy but she also recognized that the reality of them wasn't important but the belief was. But in a sense, she discredits her own narrative - how are we to know if she finds Benedetta to be the villain or the victim of the piece? She doesn't complicate it - saying she is both - she just lets it hang there. We ...more
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Aug 08, 2008 Carrie rated it liked it
This is a good read for those days when you're wavering between a desire for fiction and a desire for history. Sister Benedetta sounds like she was quite a character. The book mostly consists of some Italian Renaissance cultural background and a chronological narrative of Sister Benedetta's life as a "mystic" - you know, receiving the stigmata, Christ physically putting his own heart into her chest, and other such things. The scandalous lesbian affair that she was imprisoned for is only mentione ...more
Mark Ludmon
Feb 06, 2016 Mark Ludmon rated it it was amazing
Despite its sensational title, this is a meticulously researched history that reveals a remarkable forgotten incident in history.
Jun 10, 2014 Shawn added it
An intersting tale of an interesting time for women.
Jun 22, 2014 Ellie rated it really liked it
Great book. I loved Brown's generous interpretation of events, and lively portrayal and background. Benedetta Carlini's story is fascinating and really opens up a new and interesting world I'm sure of which many are unaware.
Jul 28, 2015 Noam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

great account of religious illusion, delusion, posturing, censure, and passion... what more do you want? of particular note are the descriptions of grotesque angels and devils, in fevered religious dreams and illusionst
Apr 04, 2009 Alaina rated it liked it
This is billed as the story of a Lesbian nun, but really it's more a legal-case-study. It's a short read, interesting for the extraordinary look at convent life in Renaissance Italy.
Dec 30, 2010 Amber rated it liked it
Read it for a history class, but found it pretty interesting.
Dec 29, 2007 Jodi rated it liked it
Lesbian nuns? Wha? Who woulda thunk it?
Vaishali Joglekar
Jan 13, 2015 Vaishali Joglekar rated it liked it
Shelves: the-renaissance
Requires far more research.
Aug 13, 2013 Morey rated it liked it
Crazy whore, good read.
Nov 26, 2008 svnh marked it as to-read
with a title like that...
Giuseppe D'Antonio
Nov 14, 2010 Giuseppe D'Antonio rated it liked it
Carmen Casanova
Aug 31, 2007 Carmen Casanova rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who's interested w the topics: history, religion, lesbian, myths
Shelves: lesbians
a rich-source book
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“Az ő korában, akárcsak a miénkben, az érzelmeket jelentéssel ruházták fel, de míg a huszadik században az érzelmeket a tapasztalás eredményének, a külső események végső, lelki termékének tekintjük, a tizenhetedik században ezek önmagukban jelentettek tapasztalást; az érzelmek adtak értelmet és formát a történéseknek, és ezek igazolták az erkölcsi igazságokat.” 0 likes
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