Atlas Obscure published a fascinating article about a genre of literature we were heretofore ignorant of: “convent exposes,” lurid penny dreadful style tales of Catholic sexual depravity authored by Protestants. It is interesting to note that the plot line would reappear in the 1980’s in accounts “Satanic Panic” abuse. The more things change… anyway, the article begins:
“IN 19TH-CENTURY AMERICA, FROM THE 1830s through the Civil War, one of the most scandalous settings an author could choose for a story was a Catholic convent.
“It was the heyday of the ‘convent exposé,’ a book, fictional or not, that purported to reveal the sin and salaciousness hidden behind the walls of religious institutions. In these books, sisters are kept captive, denied medical care, and sometimes raped or otherwise subject to sexual depravities. In the most disturbing of the stories, nuns dispose of unwanted babies by killing them shortly after they’re born.
These books, mostly forgotten today, were some of the most popular publications of their time. As Nancy F. Sweet, a literature professor at Sacramento State, writes, there were ‘dozens of other convent exposés, narratives, treatises, and romances published between 1829 and the outbreak of the Civil War.’ After the most famous of these books, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, was published in 1836, it became the best-selling book in America besides the Bible. It was outsold only when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin came out in 1852.”
Read the entire article here: