Blending history and architecture with literary analysis, this ground-breaking study explores the convent's place in the early modern imagination. The author brackets her account between two pivotal events: the Council of Trent imposing strict enclosure on cloistered nuns, and the French Revolution expelling them from their cloisters two centuries later. In the intervening time, women within convent walls were both captives and refugees from an outside world dominated by patriarchal power and discourses. Yet despite locks and bars, the cloister remained "porous" to privileged visitors. Others could catch a glimpse of veiled nuns through the elaborate grills separating cloistered space from the church, provoking imaginative accounts of convent life. Not surprisingly, the figure of the confined religious woman represents an intensified object of desire in male-authored narrative. The convent also spurred "feminutopian" discourses composed by women: convents become safe houses for those fleeing bad marriages or trying to construct an ideal, pastoral life, as a counter model to the male-dominated court or household. Recent criticism has identified certain privileged spaces that early modern women made their own: the ruelle, the salon, the hearth of fairy tale-telling. Woshinsky's book definitively adds the convent to this list.
'In this book, Barbara Woshinsky demonstrates her intimate acquaintance with the conventual space as habitat and as architectural construct, not only through historical and literary texts but through personal site visits to present-day women’s communities.' Roxanne Lalande, Lafayette College, USA
'A subtle, well researched and highly readable study of early modern female conventual spaces and the women they sheltered and enclosed. From threshold to cell and tomb, it illuminates with empathy the material and spiritual facets of a unique historical phenomenon and its literary representations.' Malina Stefanovska, University of California at Los Angeles, USA
'This monograph reads like the crowning achievement of a lifetime of study devoted to women’s voices and spaces in real and imagined worlds.' French History
’Woshinsky’s knowledge of the texts is impressive and will serve as a guide to scholars wishing to understand how outsiders, some secular and some religious were viewing the religious life in the convents in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries …an impressive piece of work…’ History of Women Religion of Britain and Ireland
'Woshinsky’s close analysis of literary texts provides us with a rich picture of the symbolic place of the convent in the cultural imagination of early modern France. Although previous studies have shown that the convent came to represent the despotism of the Old Regime in the century prior to the French Revolution, Woshinsky’s more expansive treatment provides us with a more nuanced and complex picture of what she calls a convent culture� and the ways that ideas about women’s enclosure expressed and were shaped by the changing social and political landscape of the era.' Catholic Historical Review
Contents: Foreword; Introduction/opening; The body in early modern religious discourse (1). Hermitages of the soul: bodies as allegorical enclosures in Counter-Reformation writing; The body in early modern religious discourse (2) .Living temples or vases of ignominy: Jean-Pierre Camus and the paradoxes of female representation; Thresholds: crossing the boundaries of conventual space; Parlors: the implicated convent; Cells I: forced enclosure, erotic disclosure; Cells II: male appropriations of the nun's persona in Guilleragues’s Lettres portugaises and Diderot’s La Religieuse; Tombs/closing; Works cited; Index.