- Series: Studies in the History of Sexuality
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 11, 1986)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195042255
- ISBN-13: 978-0195042252
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Studies in the History of Sexuality) Paperback – December 11, 1986
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"A rare example of the life of a nonaristocratic woman of the period and...a vivid picture of convent life and the Roman Catholic Church during the upheavals of the Counter-Reformation. Fascinating and highly readable."--The New York Times Book Review "Brown is a wonderful storyteller...[She] delivers a scholarly work that is also a story of tragedy and intrigue."--San Francisco Chronicle
"This is a very well-written and engaging book that explores issues of religion, sexuality and gender."--Professor Cliff Hubby, New York University
"Brown's research and analysis is meticulous, her storytelling compelling, and the documents themselves a treasure....An extraordinary glimpse into the world of a seventeenth-century convent....A fascinating contribution to the women's history and lesbian history literature."--Leila Rupp, Women's Studies Review
"An intensely human and engrossing story, Brown's book is the best book available on the female experience during the Counter-Reformation."--Edward Muir, Louisiana State University
"[Brown's] discussion of the cultural component in Sister Benedetta's visions, their relationship to the religious art and devotional literature of the time, like her analysis of official reactions to the case, make Immodest Acts a serious contribution to ecclesiastical history."--Journal of Ecclesiastical History
"Good history and highly recommended reading."--History: Reviews of New Books
"A fascinating reconstruction of a piece of pre-modern life in its most intimate details, and an invaluable work of history."--The Nation
"A rare example of the life of a nonaristocratic woman of the period and...a vivid picture of convent life and the Roman Catholic Church during the upheavals of the Counter-Reformation. Fascinating and highly readable."--The New York Times Book Review
"A fascinating story of a female mystic in a small town in seventeenth-century Italy. Sister Benedetta's visions are dramas enacted on a stage of convent politics, her sexual expressiveness part of her wider gift of spiritual imagination."--Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University
"A vivid, scary, and compelling narrative that will alter the history of women, religion, and sexuality."--Catharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University
"A book for the general reader, a book already making news."--Publishers Weekly
"Brown is a wonderful storyteller...[She] delivers a scholarly work that is also a story of tragedy and intrigue."--San Francisco Chronicle
"The solid scholarly apparatus with which the author illuminates each of these themes brings historical significance to the life of one long-forgotten seventeenth-century nun. Scholars and students of the history of sexuality and religious life will profit from Brown's recounting and interpretation of the life of Benedetta Carlini."--Religious Studies Review
"Good book!"--Margery A. Ganz, Spelman College
About the Author
Judith C. Brown is at Stanford University.
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Is she truly experiencing these things? Is she fabricating holiness to exert influence for personal gain? Is she unconsciously manipulating all those around her? The author masterfully paces the information so that it isn't clear until well into the book what might actually be going on, and even then, she is careful to moderate her opinion so as to not overshadow factual information, thus leaving it to the reader to ultimately interpret events and come to their own conclusions.
This isn't just a work that offers historical insight into the life of one woman at a specific period of time; this is also a psychological drama that at times is jaw-dropping. In one particular scene Sister Benedetta turns the tables on a fellow nun who is about to accuse her of deception and the outcome is shocking. At times I felt as if I were reading about a potential female David Koresh.
Most of the book is concerned with Sister Benedetta's life and rise to power and isn't until the end that a real discussion of the relationship between her and Sister Bartolomea occurs. The recounting of their relationship comes solely from the testimony of Sister Bartolomea to a tribunal of men who ultimately hold her life in their hands, so what she reveals must be considered in this light. However, there are things she says in her testimony that do seem to indicate that at some point the relationship was no longer consensual. While she always maintains that she was an unwilling participant I think the truth in more complex: that what began as a mutual attraction over time, as Sister Bartolomean began to suspect Sister Benedetta might be faking holiness, became coercion on the part of Sister Benedetta. As abbess she did have a tremendous amount of power of Sister Bartolomea and this must also be taken into consideration.
My only real complaint regards several typos early on that make the timeline confusing, but this doesn't detract from the overall interest of narrative flow.
The power of this particular book is the author's ability to take historical texts and weave them into a compelling narrative that never strays from being scholarly, but reads like a novel. I've read a number of scholarly works and while informative they are often difficult to get through (Medieval English Nunneries comes to mind immediately), but not this book. An easy read that also has a treasure trove of interesting information in the introduction regarding pre-Modern European attitudes towards women and sexuality that will surely surprise you if you are new to this area of history.