The Danger of Gliding Jesuits and the Effects of a Catholic Education

  • Diana Peschier


S.J. Abbott secretary of the Convent Enquiry Society, writing at the end of the nineteenth century about the danger of the rise in popularity of convents warned the British public of the terrible goings-on in these establishments. He relates tales of depravity, cruelty, corruption and suffering which he presents as true accounts from behind the closed doors and high walls of Catholic nunneries. Abbott stresses the idea that a convent life is ‘unnatural’ for women and therefore leads to terrible consequences. Not only will they suffer from being immured and secretly disciplined, but they may be changed forever by the experience:2

In the secrecy of a convent many tenderly reared girls, accustomed to be waited on by willing servants, find themselves painfully out of place when, for discipline’s sake, they are imperiously ordered by some ‘Reverend Mother’ fiend in petticoats to do disgusting menial work for the mere purpose of showing that they are slaves at her command. (Abbott, Revelations, p. 157)

Because of their particularly sensitive natures, girls were believed to be greatly affected, both physically and mentally, by the rigours of convent life. So much so that their fate would involve loss of health and looks even to the point of death, or else entail corruption so that they become part of the great conspiracy perpetrated by the Catholic Church in its quest for power


Young Girl Young Lady Catholic Priest Religious Woman Catholic Faith 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    L.H. Tonna, Nuns and Nunneries: Sketches Compiled Entirely from Romish Authorities (London: Seeleys, 1852), p. 306.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    S.J. Abbott, Revelations of Modern Convents or Life in Convents on British Soil in the Closing Years of the Nineteenth-Century. Intended as an Earnest Appeal to the British Public (London: W. Wileman and John Kensit, 1899), p. 157.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rev. M. Hobart Seymour, Convents or Nunneries. A Lecture in Reply to Cardinal Wiseman (London: Seeleys, 1852), p. 10.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Catherine Hall, White Male and Middle Class, Explorations in Feminism and History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), especially chapter 3, ‘Victorian Domestic Ideology’.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of this Country contrasted with Real Christianity (1797), p. 453. Quoted in Hall, White Male and Middle Class, p. 86.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The political importance and the history of the Jesuits makes the society an excellent example of the dangers of Roman Catholicism for the Evangelical Protestant writers who are able to exploit this knowledge in their antiCatholic writing. Interesting books to refer to on the history of the Jesuits are: Francis Edwards S.J., The Jesuits in England: From 1580 to the Present Day (London: Burnes and Oates, 1985)Google Scholar
  7. and Peter Rawlinson, The Jesuit Factor: A Personal Investigation (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    For a comprehensive explanation of these terms see Elaine Showalter, Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture (London: Picador, 1997), chapter 6, ‘Hysterical Narratives’.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Helen DHU, Stanhope Burleigh: The Jesuits in our Homes (New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1855), pp. vii and viii.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Andrew Steinmetz, The Jesuit in the Family. A Tale (London: Smith and Elder, 1847), p. 6.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Jemima Luke, The Female Jesuit, or, a Spy in the Family (London: Partridge and Oakey, 1851), p. x.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Quoted in the introduction to, Frances Trollope, The Vicar of Wrexhill (Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1996).Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    In his recent article, ‘Charlotte Brontë and Roman Catholicism’, Jan Jedrzejewski states that Father Eustace is representative of ‘often less-than-subtle religious propaganda.’ Although on the surface this is a fair comment, I would contend that the novel contains more intuitive representations of gender and power than he gives credit for. See Jedrzejewski, ‘Charlotte Brontë and Roman Catholicism’. Brontë Society Transactions 25, 2 (October 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 23.
    See Pamela Neville-Sington, Fanny Trollope, the Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman (London: Viking, 1997), p. 358.Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    Ibid., vol. 1, p. 237. The description of Eustace’s hands would have been of particular significance to the Victorians. During this period small, delicate, white hands were a fashionable sign of femininity. Very tight gloves were worn to show off the shape of the hand, hence the use of glove stretchers which were only in use for about 100 years. Arthur Munby, famous for his diary and photographs of Victorian working women had what could be termed as almost a fetish about women’s hands. His writings give a good insight into the social implications and the importance in determining class and gender in the nineteenth century, of the size and shape of a person’s hands and gloves. See Munby, ‘Our Mary’ in Poems, Chiefly Lyric and Elegiac (London: Truber and Co. Ltd., 1901). Ann Morgan’s Love: A Pedestrian Poem (London: Reeves and Turner, 1896). ‘Discipline’ in Verses New and Old (London: Bell and Daldy, 1865).Google Scholar
  16. Other references may be found in Derek Hudson, Munby Man of Two Worlds (London: Abacus, 1974).Google Scholar
  17. 39.
    Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (London: Yale University Press, 1984), p. 432.Google Scholar
  18. 50.
    See Catherine Sinclair, Beatrice or The Unknown Relatives (London: Richard Bentley, 1852), p. 297, which mentions Catholicism exciting girls to insanity, so much so that some are necessarily placed in asylums. ‘When I hear as of late, that the intellects of many young ladies have been excited to actual insanity by the awful view of eternity forced clandestinely upon their thoughts by these Popish Priests; when I know that several are now necessarily placed in asylums …’Google Scholar
  19. 51.
    Catherine Sinclair, Modern Superstition (London: Simpkin Marshall & Co., 1847), p. 3.Google Scholar
  20. 54.
    Eliza Smith, The Progress of Beguilement to Romanism (London: Seeleys, 1850), p. 91.Google Scholar
  21. 55.
    See the introduction to Rachel McCrindell, The Schoolgirl in France (London: Seeley and Burnside, 1842). Here the author states that owing to the unhoped for success of her former novel, she has been emboldened to come before the public again. In fact, there were at least seven editions of the novel between 1840 and 1859, printed in both England and America.Google Scholar
  22. 69.
    Julie Peakman, Mighty Lewd Books: the Development of Pornography in Eighteenth-Century England (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Diana Peschier 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Peschier

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations