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The novel began not as a work for literary consumption, but as an elaborate practical joke aimed at luring the Marquis de Croismare , a companion of Diderot's, back to Paris. The novel consists of a series of letters purporting to be from a nun, Suzanne, who implores the Marquis to help her renounce her vows, and describes her intolerable life in the convent to which she has been committed against her will. In , the Marquis involved himself in a controversial case where a nun, Marguerite Delamarre, was trying to be dispensed from her vows and return to society. The Marquis pitied Marguerite and unsuccessfully tried to use his political influence to liberate her. After losing the case in , Marguerite was forced to remain in the convents for the rest of her life. Diderot used Marguerite Delamarre as a prototype for Suzanne, thinking Croismare would be persuaded to return to Paris in order to save Suzanne from her misery in the convent. Eventually, this practical joke turned into a passionate project for Diderot, in which he self-identifies as a woman.
Diderot's The Nun La Religieuse is the seemingly true story of a young girl forced by her parents to enter a convent and take holy orders. A novel mingling mysticism, madness, sadistic cruelty and nascent sexuality, it gives a scathing insight into the effects of forced vocations and the unnatural life of the convent. For Diderot's novel is not simply a story of a young girl with a bad habit; it is also a powerfully emblematic fable about oppression and intolerance. This new translation includes Diderot's all-important prefatory material, which he placed, disconcertingly, at the end of the novel, and which turns what otherwise seems like an exercise in realism into what is now regarded as a masterpiece of proto-modernist fiction. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
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