Rebecca Reed and Maria Monk may not be well-known authors today, but these women were publishing sensations in nineteenth-century America. Their lurid tales of life in two North American convents, one in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the other in Montreal, Canada, sold more than one-half million copies.
Reed escaped from the Ursuline convent in Charlestown in 1832. Her dramatic renditions of Roman Catholic ritual practice helped spark a night of violence that resulted in the convent being burned to the ground by an angry mob. Reed’s published narrative, Six Months in a Convent, appeared just as the trials of the rioters were ending in 1835, and became an instant literary success.
Monk’s supporters capitalized on the lucrative market in anti-Catholic literature, by bringing out the pseudo-pornographic Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery in 1836. Monk, who claimed her infant daughter had been fathered by a Catholic priest, was in fact a Montreal prostitute rather than a nun. She enjoyed the life of a literary star in New York before her hoax was uncovered.
These two narratives are now available for the first time in a single paperback edition. Nancy Lusignan Schultz’s introduction provides a fascinating glimpse into the history, development, and marketing of these phenomenal best-sellers. The convent tales by Reed and Monk are classics that must be read by those interested in American
studies, popular culture, social and religious history, literature, and women’s studies