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The Nun
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1001 book reviews > The Nun - Denis Diderot

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Karen | 293 comments The nun is the story of Suzanne, a young girl forced into a convent by her mother and her mother's husband, her efforts to be released and the ill treatment she suffered while in three different convents.

I seem to be having a nun-themed month as I have just finished reading Paternal Tyranny by Arcangela Tarabotti. She was a sixteenth century Venetian nun, who was also cloistered against her will and wrote fiery polemics about the status of women in her society, and the forced veilings of young girls. Denis Diderot has written a fictional account set in eighteenth century France, but common themes can be found in both works. From the young age of the nuns, the lack of choice and freedom, the way that it is not the beautiful daughters who take the veil but the disabled (Tarabotti was lame) or illegitimate (as Suzanne was). Women are seen as economic liabilities - it can be cheaper to send them to a convent than to marry them off or even let them remain at home. What is sad though is that both writers pick up on the damage that the enforced seclusion can have - both fear for the safety of a forced nun's soul.

Diderot disguises his serious message about oppression and lack of freedom in the twist at the end of the book. I don't want to give too much away but the genesis of the novel lies in a practical joke on one of his friends and this is included in the novel. Innovative, maybe, but I am not sure that I liked it. I wanted a fully resolved novel with all the ends tied up and did not get it. But I absolutely loved the first three quarters of the book. And I love an unreliable narrator! And I would like to ponder the way lesbianism was handled. While more negative than positive, at least it was not done in an overtly titillating way.

I gave the book 4 stars. I love stories that shed light on past injustices, particularly with women protaginists.


Diane  | 2051 comments **Just a quick note to the moderators - the link on the links list on this book does not direct to this thread, but rather back to the general links page.

Rating: 4 stars

One of the older books, but stil very accessible. This is the story of a young woman who is dealth a rather raw deal. She is placed in a convent against her will as a means of atonement by her mother, who committed adultery. Her two sisters are legitimate, and do not share her fate. She is brought there under false pretenses, as well. Her reactions and behaviors upon entering the convent are understandable, but cause her to be subject to poor treatment by the other nuns. The book is told in a letter addressed to a French authority, pleading for his mercy and her subsequent release.

It is interesting to note that this book was written as a practical joke. It is also based on a true story of a French women sent to a convent by her family against her will. The judge, in that case, ruled for her to remain in the convent for the rest of her life. So much for human rights.


message 3: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 1313 comments Mod
Diane wrote: "**Just a quick note to the moderators - the link on the links list on this book does not direct to this thread, but rather back to the general links page.

Rating: 4 stars

One of the older books, ..."


Thanks. Fixed it.


message 4: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1533 comments The Nun is a unique story told as a memoir or a long letter from a young woman forced against her will to enter a convent. The story is written for a potential benefactor. She does not have a vocation and although she is religious, she fights for her freedom against the rules of her family and both the State and the Catholic Church. Her mother has placed her in the convent to atone for her own sins, as the young girl is an illegitimate child who until sold into the convent for her dowry, does not even understand why her parents treat her so poorly. In the convents she is tortured, ignored, starved, beaten and in one of the convents the Mother Superior falls in love with her and attempts to introduce her to sexual experiences.
Diderot concludes the book with some letters in which it is made clear that the story is just that, a made up story, that he and his friends have concocted to lure the good benefactor back to Paris to intercede on the young fictional nun's behalf.
Although a story about one nun, Diderot includes realistic detail that convinces the reader that much of what he writes about could be true, even though he has clothed it in satire and tongue and cheek. Further, the story stands as the struggle for individual freedom against the overreach of the Church and the State, and the book is credited with enlightening readers and motivating thoughts of rebellion that led up to the French revolution.


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