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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighteenth Annual Collection »

August 14, 2005


Jonathan Dresner

Karen Armstrong's Through a Narrow Gate would seem to fit your descriptions of ex-nun memoirs pretty well.

Though I wonder about the marketing and writing of these. (in fairness, my exposure to these texts is limited) It seems to me that they are not written, as you say, to reinforce public suspicions about institutions like nunneries, but as appeals to that segment of the public that does not have such suspicions.

Perhaps it's a case of the target and consumer being non-contiguous groups.

Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

I think you could make a case that things change in the twentieth century; the nineteenth-century memoirists were working in a well-established anti-Catholic tradition, with lots of Gothic antecedents, etc., whereas their twentieth-century relatives are working in a different theological and generic context. Old-fashioned anti-popery still exists on the fringes of Anglo-American culture, after all, but it's not really on the radar for most readers; aside from the ones who are actively studying it, my Catholic friends and students have often never run across this kind of material. (Obviously, the sex scandals have prompted a new outbreak of anti-clericalism, but, one or two instances aside, nuns don't seem to be a target.) And, of course, we're in an age where the number of vocations have drastically collapsed, whereas our Victorian friends were worried about the opposite trend.


As a sad, factually based aside, the Irish misery childhood subgenre has its fair share of child abuse stories where nuns were involved. I have four on my bookshelf here awaiting return to someone writing a memoir of similar experiences.Nearly all involve some sexual abuse by Irish nuns of orphans or sick children, which is a chilling indictment of that particular brand of jingoistic, backward Catholicism.
( BTW I'm fourth generation Irish Australian, ex-Catholic and much happier than I was. Most of the time anyway!)

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