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Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy

3.2  ·  Rating Details ·  60 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews

Witchcraft. Arson. Going AWOL. Some nuns in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy strayed far from the paradigms of monastic life. Cloistered in convents, subjected to stifling hierarchy, repressed, and occasionally persecuted by their male superiors, these women circumvented authority in sometimes extraordinary ways. But tales of their transgressions have long been bu

Hardcover, 264 pages
Published November 15th 2010 by University Of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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Nov 11, 2010 Terence rated it liked it
Recommended to Terence by: NYRB
Craig Monson’s Nuns Behaving Badly is an unassuming collection of events at five Italian convents spanning the late 16th to the early 18th centuries whose inmates asserted themselves against the severe boundaries that delimited their lives. Despite its title and this picture which graces the back of my edition’s dust jacket –

there’s little that’s salacious. Anyone hoping to read about orgies or demonic rites a la The Monk will be disappointed. In fact, in regards to sex and convents, Monson wri
Feb 12, 2011 Dana rated it really liked it
A feminist microhistory masquerading as something sexy. Which somehow makes it more intriguing? What does it say about our times that the dust jacket of a book about 16th and 17th century nuns in Italy has to show a nun being spanked if it has a hope in hell of selling? Spoiler: no nuns are spanked in this book. It's much better than that.
Mindy aka serenity
Feb 18, 2016 Mindy aka serenity rated it really liked it
Craig Monson seeks to relay the stories of five “badly behaved” nuns in Seventeenth Century Italy, whose tales he found while doing research in the Vatican Archives. He aims first for the book to bring to light these women who have been lost to obscurity for such a long time. The second aim is to highlight that the hierarchical systems maintained by the Catholic Church with external control of convents were and are incapable of managing what goes on inside the sacred walls where no man may tread ...more
Apr 24, 2012 Michelle rated it liked it
This book is far better than the title and cheesy cover image let on. It truly is a micro-history. The author is a music historian going through the Vatican archives when he comes across interesting tidbits about nuns and eventually writes this book on some of the more complete histories/stories he could find.

While it does involve nuns who break their vows in one way or another, the book isn't sensationalist or salacious. This title focuses on the history, time period, facts, people, of the tim
Joe Matson
Mar 09, 2012 Joe Matson rated it really liked it
More fun than is usually allowed in a such a well-researched book.
I am willing to admit that the marketing copy ("Witchcraft. Arson. Going AWOL…") and the sensationalist title are what initially drew me to this book. And while what it contains is far less sensational, it was still a fascinating look at something I previously knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about. Right from the start, I learned that huge numbers of women, rich or poor, in 17th century Italy ended up in convents, because their parents would groom one daughter for marriage and send the rest t ...more
Feb 28, 2016 AphroPhantasmal rated it really liked it
I will always have a soft spot for nuns. I don’t necessarily know why. Perhaps the contemplative life appeals to me and I enjoy reading stories of women who have taken this plunge. When it comes to “Nun’s Behaving Badly” however, it’s not the contemplative life put on display; it’s more a glorious gossip-filled expose into the lives of a select few nuns within the convents of Italy during the 16th-17th centuries.

The book starts out very strong, telling the most salacious tale at the very beginni
Mar 02, 2016 Max rated it really liked it
I give it a four for what appears to be accurate research. However,

I could not get interested in continuing reading. What was interesting was that for the documents studied by the author, many nuns were extra female family members that needed to be disposed of. Rather a nunnery than death at birth, but still. I had thought that I was going to be reading about a part of the population that fought for the good of the people against bad religious policies. Not so. Since many nuns were the extra dis
Bryan Taylor
Aug 23, 2013 Bryan Taylor rated it it was ok
Anyone expecting a scandalous page turner will be sorely disappointed. The author found these tales in the Vatican library while doing musicological research. The scandals are mild by any standard, especially today's, but in the boredom of the Vatican library probably seemed horrid. Examples are calling upon the devil to find a missing violin, burning down a convent to escape, slipping outside of the convent to participate in an opera, or two lesbian nuns who escape the convent together. Anyone ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Edna rated it it was amazing
I am, if there is such a thing, a Renaissance convent nerd. This had all the things I love about Renaissance convents: The arts as a means of transcending the cloister, the reality of life (as opposed to Council of Trent edicts, and embroidery. I'm not sure why all the reviewers are disappointed that it wasn't scandalous enough. I mean, these chicks burned down the convent because it was cramping their style.
Jun 01, 2011 Gina marked it as abandoned
Shelves: 2011
I'm just not getting anywhere with this. I think there's a bit of a disconnect between the type of book this is and the way it was marketed. It's very, very academically written with a few odd bits where it starts to feel like a novel. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not exactly the light reading I was expecting. I may come back to it at some point, because I actually did learn quite a bit.
Steve Wiggins
Aug 03, 2013 Steve Wiggins rated it liked it
A little more technical than the cover would seem to imply, this is a fascinating study for an academic readership. It would help to know a bit about Italian history before picking it up, but it has stories of women who didn't always live by the rules. More thoughts at: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Michelle Szetela
Feb 23, 2011 Michelle Szetela rated it really liked it
Got about a third of the way through. Good book, very interesting, but so dense that unless I had time to spend 45 uninterrupted minutes on a chapter (which had no breaks or ways in which I could put it down between chapters and come back to it without having to start from the beginning of the chapter) to actually finish the chapter, I would lose my place.
Aug 11, 2012 Kay added it
Not all nuns are willing to take the veil--according to this book, many of them (at least in sixteenth-century Italy) were placed there by families who had too many daughters to marry off. So the nuns would resort to arson, presumed witchcraft and other devices to get out of their vows. This is a rollicking read at times.
Feb 28, 2011 Susan rated it did not like it
Shelves: bailed, history, loathed
Charmingly re-written rag from the Vatican Library.
Later: Monson's making light of the nuns' pathetic attempts to enjoy themselves by dabbling in illicit magic is sickening. I'm feeling really claustrophobic.
Sep 05, 2011 Smflavin rated it liked it
Very well written, but sort of like reading a text book. It is interesting so far. Still reading the book and it is very interesting. I will finish it, I am determined!
Sep 15, 2012 Don rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2012
They don't behave bad enough to make this book very interesting.
Sarah Harris
Dec 09, 2011 Sarah Harris is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
I'm not sure I'm going to finish this book. I got it for my Mom this year for Mother's Day. It sounds fun but I'm not loving it so far.
Ian Carpenter
Jan 28, 2016 Ian Carpenter rated it liked it
Don't let the salacious title fool you - this was a surprisingly well-written, erudite read. Overly concerned with music for my interests but very good for those that click with it.
The histories told here are intriguing yet sad as most of the nuns' transgressions had to do with their attempting to escape their cloistered lives, either temporarily (to attend the opera, for instance) or permanently (to return to their families). Many unmarried 17th century women (or rather, girls) were sent to convents involuntarily as a way of protecting family honor, so it's unsurprising that a good number of nuns were dissatisfied with convent life. Monson contextualizes the seemingly cru ...more
Jun 30, 2016 Ruthmarie rated it liked it
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and indeed more exciting, as this book proves. Although a scholarly treatise, this study by Craig Monson is engaging, though tinged with a bit too much of préciosité in its style. The five "case studies" (from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries) explore the misbehaviors of young (and not so young) women, most of whom entered the convent unwillingly, in adherence to contemporary mores. There is an interesting interview with Monson from 2011 ...more
Nicole G.
Nov 12, 2016 Nicole G. rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2016
A very interesting look at five different groups of nuns requiring intercession, hidden in the Vatican's secret archive. It's easy to get bogged down in all the lengthy Italian names, however. There is a cast of characters in the front of the book to help. I really enjoyed the introduction, where the author described how he came to write this book - while searching for other things, he came upon a bawdy song that was sung by nuns. I also learned that many of the nuns during this time were not ne ...more
Oct 03, 2016 Megalion marked it as to-read
Free for month of October.
Note: isn't as salacious as covert art indicates according to reviews.
Dec 27, 2016 Clivemichael rated it liked it
Shelves: political, history, e-book
Entertaining accounts from a repressed reality. Somewhat amusing.
James Stevens
James Stevens rated it liked it
Oct 28, 2013
Alanna rated it liked it
Mar 26, 2012
Jason rated it really liked it
Jun 01, 2011
Amanda Buell
Amanda Buell rated it it was amazing
Jan 24, 2016
Anverie rated it liked it
Mar 19, 2015
Kerry Miller
Kerry Miller rated it it was ok
Feb 16, 2011
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