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Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy Hardcover – November 15, 2010
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(Jenny Spinner, Saint Joseph's University Journal of Medieval Religous Cultures)
(Jane A. Bernstein, Tufts University)
“For centuries, more than three-quarters of upper-class women in Italy were immured in convents, willingly or not. From the Vatican Secret Archive, Craig Monson has worked like a detective to uncover the secrets of this closed world, revealing the yearnings and frustrations of women who were ‘dead to the world.’ This beautifully written, gripping book tells the stories of nuns who sought escape. Some just sang forbidden polyphony, one slipped out in disguise to catch the latest opera, and an entire convent burned down their cloister so they could all go home.”
(Edward Muir, Northwestern University)
“Monson’s book is a treasure hunt through the archives, uncovering hoards of gold: stories and characters from convent history, sad, bad, mad, and scandalous enough to make a novelist’s mouth water.”
(Sarah Dunant, author of Sacred Hearts: A Novel)
About the Author
Craig A. Monson is professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Disembodied Voices: Music and Culture in an Early Modern Italian Convent.
Top Customer Reviews
There is little about sex here (though teenage boys in search of titillation are free to use their imaginations). Instead, the author, a musicologist, has written up five stories he gleaned from the 17th and 18th century "Proceedings before the Papal Congregation of Bishops and Regulars" at the Vatican Library. The tales include stories about nuns who use folk magic in an attempt to find a stolen viola, a violent row over some chapel embroidery, a nun who masquerades as a priest to attend the opera, and cloister members from the same aristocratic family escaping their family-donated convent by burning it down.
Monson writes well (if too chattily for my taste) offering reflections on his research in the Vatican Library as well as attempts at contemporary relevance. The authorial voice is often necessary to fill gaps because the primary sources are investigative documents written by the nuns' male superiors, men uninterested in tidying up loose ends of the incidents they related.
There is much of interest here: sidelights on monastic music and the raising of silkworms, for instance. What one will not find is much about religion. Apparently all the women featured here were relegated to the cloister by families trying to save dowry money. None seems to have had a religious vocation.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fascinating history well presented. Wonderful to hear of the musicality of nuns hidden behind cloister walls.Published 11 months ago by Lorna
This is a book that was an okay read. Some of the chapters were interesting about the activities of Nuns in convents; however, this was not an easy book to read because of the... Read morePublished on November 19, 2013 by Joseph J. Truncale