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Nuns: A History of Convent Life by Silvia…

Nuns: A History of Convent Life (2008)

by Silvia Evangelisti

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This examines the lives of nuns in the 16th to 18th century mostly with occasional coments on the continuing traditions and some of the reasons that somethings are the way they are today. It was interesting to see how the council of Trent completely changed things from where Nuns could have interaction with the outside world. Before it they could go out into the world and retreat to their cloister but after it they couldn't go out. Their influence and interaction with other people was utterly changed.

It was also interesting to see the rise and fall of certain orders and the changes that the reformation wrought on them. Occasionally changes that restricted the choices some women had.

During this period women really only had two choices; marry or join the cloister. In some instances they didn't really have those choices, they were imposed upon them by the men in their lives (usually brothers or fathers); dowries were expensive commodities and while many convents also wanted a dowry this wasn't as high as a marriage dowry making it a less expensive proposition for families, particularly if they had several daughters to apportion.

It's quite readable, and if you know anything of nuns (I am a convent school alumnus and I have an aunt a nun) you can see the echoes of the past in the present. An interesting book that deserves a sequel dealing with more modern issues and a prequel dealing with medieval issues. ( )
1 vote wyvernfriend | Feb 23, 2010 |
Wonderful ( )
  Harrod | Dec 5, 2008 |
I picked this up off the new release shelves at the library, based on my general fascination with religious vocations. The book focuses on the development of female religious orders during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation. Although the book had clearly been meticulously researched, I came out of it not much more knowledgeable than I was went I went in, and without a clear idea of what this author was trying to acheive. On the one hand, the author seemed to assume a basic knowledge of religious orders on the part of the reader; what kind of different groups exist, who some of the main saints are, etc. That seemed reasonable enough, since a completely uninformed lay person is probably less likely to pick up a book like this. On the other hand, she would explain other things in detail, such as the daily routine of a typical nunnery. Things that someone knowledgeable about nuns would know.

The other thing that kind of annoyed me about this book was the way that Ms. Evangelisti basically dismissed anything that would make the Church look bad. Sure, she mentioned things like abusive confessors and families that forced daughters into convents, but she mentioned them in passing, without really addressing the underlying complaints. I get the feeling that Ms. Evangelisti is a really big fan of the Church. That's fine, but it makes this book far from unbiased. There's a lot more to this story than this book addressed, and I think it would have been a much better book if that information had been included. Basically, I felt like this would be a good book for a nice Catholic girl to read if she wanted to learn a little bit more about nuns, but not about the darker side of the convent. As for me, I was disappointed. ( )
  Kplatypus | Jun 7, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192804359, Hardcover)

Nuns tells the fascinating stories of the women who have lived in religious communities during some of the most tumultuous years in European history. Drawing particularly on the nuns' own words, Silvia Evangelisti reveals their ideals and achievements, frustrations and failures, and their attempts to reach out to the society around them. She explores how they came to the cloister, how they responded to monastic discipline, and how they pursued their spiritual, intellectual, and missionary activities.
Life in the Middle Ages and the centuries that followed offered few options for high-born women. Your choice was, as one Italian noblewoman put it, "between a marriage and a wall." If your family could not afford a dowry, or you did not wish to marry, you could join a convent to escape the shame of being unwed. Some extremely pious women, so abhorring the idea of marriage, went as far as to throw themselves into boiling water so that their scarred bodies and faces would be unappealing to their prospective husbands. For many that joined, the convent was a chance to achieve some measure of a career, working as valued manuscript copiers or cultivating talents in the visual and musical arts. Despite strict rules which kept many orders separated from the outside world, nuns often found a way to contribute to their communities by creating charities and schools, while a few exceptional women made names for themselves for their artistic talents or for establishing new convents. This book features the individual stories of some of these outstanding historical figures, including Teresa of Avila, who set up over seventeen new convents, despite opposition from powerful politicians. When Europeans began to extend their interest in the New World, it was often the establishment of convents that provided the easiest transfer of European ideals and culture into the new colonies.
Despite the restrictions that were placed on the lives of nuns, Evangelisti clearly shows how these women were able to overcome some of the restrictions placed on women in their societies at large. In doing so, she provides a fascinating and rarely seen glimpse into their intriguing world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:58 -0400)

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"From the sixteenth century to our own generation, Nuns tells the stories of the women who have lived in religious communities - their ideals and achievements, frustrations and failures, and their attempts to reach out to the society around them. Drawing particularly on the nuns' own words, Silvia Evangelisti explores how and why they came to the cloister, responded to monastic discipline, and pursued their spiritual, intellectual, and missionary activities." "The book looks not only at the individual stories of outstanding historical figures such as Teresa of Avila but also at the wider picture of convent life - what it symbolized to contemporaries, how it reflected and related to the world beyond the cloister, and what it still means in the world today."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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