Religieuse, La. Novel by Diderot. Written in 1760, it was published in the Correspondance littéraire in 1780, though a teasing set of letters (known as the ‘Préface-annexe’), which describe the circumstances of composition, had been made public in 1770. It began life as a practical joke: in order to tempt the wealthy and humanitarian marquis de Croismare to return to Paris, Diderot, Grimm, and others made up letters from a supposed nun, Suzanne Simonin, who had escaped from a convent and was seeking his protection. The novel that developed from this is presented as Suzanne's own story of her life.
For family reasons she is placed in a convent against her will, trapped into taking orders, and subjected to an improbable accumulation of sadistic persecutions. The story produces a powerful, melo-dramatic effect, like a Gothic horror novel. Diderot uses it to explore imaginatively the effects of claustration on a group of women—there is a remarkable sequence concerned with female homosexuality—and to expose the evils of forced vocations and the unnatural life of the convent. Whether it should be read as an attack on Christianity is doubtful.
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