The Retirement House of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
Portuguese women were the most jealously guarded in Europe. A Portuguese writer of the seventeenth century compared female honour with an arithmetical calculation: an error was an error, be it by one or by a thousand.1 A virtuous woman only left her house thrice in her lifetime — for her christening, her marriage and her funeral: such was the moral ideal for womanhood.2 In the Portuguese overseas empire the seclusion of the white woman was, if anything, more severe. Travellers of other European nations to the Orient or to Brazil never failed to comment on the seclusion of the Portuguese female, be she wife or daughter. In colonial Bahia the French engineer Froger remarked that the white women only left their homes to attend mass on Sundays.3 Frézier, also an engineer, who visited Bahia some eighteen years later in 1714, was intrigued rather than dismayed by the strict seclusion of the Portuguese female. Although acknowledging the jealous precautions taken by husbands to guard their wives and daughters, he slyly commented: ‘… they are almost all of them Libertines, and find means to impose upon the Watchfulness of their Fathers and Husbands’. He continued, ‘ Whether it be the Effect of the Climate, or of our natural Bent after that which others endeavour to keep from us by Force, there is no need of any extraordinary Efforts to be admitted to the last Familiarity.’4
KeywordsWhite Woman Seventeenth Century Young Girl City Council Moral Ideal
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- 1.Luiz Monteiro da Costa, Igreja e convento de Nossa Senhora da Soledade (Bahia, 1958).Google Scholar