Sin, Sexuality, Selfhood, Sainthood, Insanity: Contemporary Catholic Girlhood Narratives

  • Jeana DelRosso


In his book Faithful Fictions: The Catholic Novel in British Literature, Thomas Woodman discusses Catholic writers’ embarrassed tone toward the sexuality of nuns and priests and argues that, since James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the struggle between chastity and the needs of the body has constituted the theme of most Catholic fiction that deals explicitly with issues of sexuality. He explores the variations on this theme, which range from recognition of Catholicism’s respect for the body to its establishment and perpetuation of sexuality as a necessary evil, and he recognizes that these ambivalent attitudes often materialize in depictions of women in terms of the “Virgin/Whore antithesis” (Woodman 153). Significantly, Woodman’s discussion of sexuality appears in a chapter entitled “Sin, Sex, and Adultery,” a grouping that, unfortunately, only further reinforces the Catholic-informed dichotomy in which virginity is associated with goodness and sexuality with sin. Melvin Friedman finds this connection between sex and sin to be characteristic of much Catholic fiction and suggests that a lingering aspect of such writings is the distrust of sex and horror at the sexual act—again, a characteristic reaffirmed by James Joyce (6). It is my contention, however, that this distrust and horror of sexuality in much male-authored Catholic fiction remains inextricably bound to representations of women in such writings and that many female-authored texts take a much different approach to sexuality.


Female Sexuality Young Girl Fairy Tale Catholic Church Woman Writer 
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  1. 8.
    Sheila Hassell Hughes, “Tongue-tied: Rhetoric and Relation in Louise Erdrich’s Tracks,” MELUS 25.3–4 (2000): 101.Google Scholar

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© Jeana DelRosso 2005

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  • Jeana DelRosso

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