Lifting the Veil: A Nineteenth-century Perception of Nuns and Convents

  • Diana Peschier


One distinguishing feature of anti-Catholic feeling during the nineteenth century was a widespread fear of Catholic religious institutions, and in particular female religious institutions. Many single women regarded the convent as a plausible alternative lifestyle. Such an alternative necessarily challenged the Victorian patriarchal emphasis on the family as the core of society. This meant that convent-living tended to become ideologically constructed as ‘unnatural’. To deny a woman her ‘natural’ destiny of wife and mother was deemed a terrible offence. In her analysis of a nineteenth-century women’s religious congregation, Gloria McAdam makes the point that whilst the nun represented an alternative to the established understanding of female gender and sexuality, she was consistently subjected, by men, to a gendered interpretation.2 It is this ‘gendered interpretation’ of the nun in nineteenth-century literature that will be explored in this chapter, through the examination of various different approaches to the subject, both fictional and non-fictional, published during the mid-nineteenth century.


Sexual Desire Young Girl Corporal Punishment Solitary Confinement British People 
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© Diana Peschier 2005

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  • Diana Peschier

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