Short summary - La Religieuse - The Nun or Memoirs of a Nun - Denis Diderot

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - La Religieuse - The Nun or Memoirs of a Nun
Denis Diderot

The story is written in the form of the heroine's notes addressed to the Marquis de Croamar, whom she asks for help and for this purpose tells him the story of her misfortunes.
The heroine's name is Maria-Suzanne Simonen. Her father is a lawyer, he has a great fortune. She is not liked in the house, although she surpasses the sisters in beauty and spiritual qualities, and Suzanne assumes that she is not the daughter of Mr. Simonen. Parents offer Suzanne to take monasticism at the monastery of St. Mary on the pretext that they are broke and will not be able to give her a dowry. Suzanne doesn't want to; she was persuaded to serve as a novice for two years, but after the expiration of the term she still refuses to become a nun. She is imprisoned in a cell; she decides to pretend that she agreed, but in fact wants to publicly protest on the day of her tonsure; for this purpose, she invites friends and girlfriends to the ceremony and, answering the questions of the priest, refuses to take a vow. A month later they take her home; she is locked up, her parents do not want to see her. Father Seraphim (the confessor of Suzanne and her mother), with the mother's permission, informs Suzanne that she is not the daughter of Mr. Simonen, Mr. Simonen guesses about this, so the mother cannot equate her with legitimate daughters, and the parents want to minimize her part of the inheritance, and therefore she has no choice but to take monasticism. The mother agrees to meet with her daughter and tells her that by her existence she reminds her of the infamous betrayal on the part of Suzanne's real father, and her hatred of this man spreads to Suzanne. The mother wants her daughter to atone for her sin, so she is saving up a contribution to the monastery for Suzanne. He says that after an escapade in the monastery of St. Maria Suzanne has nothing to think about her husband. The mother does not want Suzanne to bring strife into the house after her death, but she cannot officially deprive Suzanne of the inheritance, since for this she needs to confess to her husband.
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After this conversation, Suzanne decides to become a nun. The Lonshansky monastery agrees to take it. Suzanne was brought to the monastery when a certain Madame de Mony had just become abbess there — a kind, intelligent woman who knows the human heart well; she and Suzanne immediately become sympathetic. Meanwhile, Suzanne becomes a novice. She often becomes discouraged at the thought that she should soon become a nun, and then runs to the abbess. The abbess has a special gift of consolation; all the nuns come to her in difficult times. She consoles Suzanne. But as the day approaches, Suzanne's tonsure is often seized by such melancholy that the abbess does not know what to do. The gift of consolation leaves her; she can't say anything to Suzanne. During the taking of the tonsure, Suzanne is in deep prostration, she does not remember at all what happened that day. In the same year, Mr. Simonen, Suzanne's abbess and mother, died. The gift of consolation returns to the abbess in her last moments; she dies with a presentiment of eternal bliss. Before her death, the mother gives Suzanne a letter and money; in the letter - a request to the daughter to atone for the maternal sin by her good deeds. Instead of Madame de Mony, Sister Christine, a petty, narrow-minded woman, becomes the abbess. She is fond of new religious trends, makes nuns participate in ridiculous rituals, revives the methods of repentance, exhausting the flesh, which were canceled by Sister de Mony. Suzanne at every opportunity praises the former abbess, does not obey the customs restored by Sister Christina, rejects all sectarianism, learns by heart the charter so as not to do what is not included in it. With her speeches and actions, she also captivates some of the nuns and gains a reputation as a rebel. She cannot be accused of anything; then her life is made unbearable: they forbid everyone to communicate with her, constantly punish her, interfere with sleep, pray, steal things, spoil the work Suzanne has done. Suzanne thinks about suicide, but sees that everyone wants it, and leaves this intention. She decides to break the vow. To begin with, she wants to write a detailed note and give it to someone from the laity. Suzanne takes a lot of paper from the abbess on the pretext that she needs to write a confession, but she suspects that the paper has gone to other notes.
Suzanne manages to hand over the papers to Sister Ursula, who treats Suzanne in a friendly way, during prayer; this nun constantly removed, as best she could, the obstacles put up by other nuns to Suzanne. Suzanne is searched, these papers are searched everywhere; she is interrogated by the abbess and cannot achieve anything. Suzanne is thrown into a dungeon and released on the third day. She falls ill, but soon recovers. Meanwhile, the time is approaching when people come to Longchamp to listen to church singing; Since Suzanne has a very good voice and musical ability, she sings in a choir and teaches other nuns to sing. Among her students is Ursula. Suzanne asks her to forward the notes to some skillful lawyer; Ursula does it. Suzanne has great success with the public. Some of the lay people get to know her; she meets with Mr. Manuri, who has taken over her business, talks with people who come to her, trying to interest them in her fate and acquire patrons. When the community learns of Suzanne's desire to break the vow, they declare her cursed by God; you can't even touch it. She is not fed, she asks for food herself, and she is given all sorts of garbage. They scoff at her in every possible way (they broke her dishes, took out furniture and other things from her cell; at night they make noise in her cell, break glass, pour broken glass under her feet). The nuns believe that a demon has entered into Suzanne, and report this to the senior vicar, Mr. Eber. He arrives, and Suzanne manages to defend herself against the charges. She is equated with the rest of the nuns. Meanwhile, Suzanne's case is being lost in court. Suzanne is obliged to wear a hair shirt for several days, scourge herself, and fast every other day. She gets sick; sister Ursula looks after her. Suzanne's life is in danger, but she is recovering. Meanwhile, sister Ursula falls seriously ill and dies.
Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Manuri, Suzanne is transferred to the Arpazhonsky monastery of St. Eutropia. The abbess of this monastery has an extremely uneven, contradictory character. She never keeps herself at the proper distance: either she is too close, or too far away; then everything resolves, then it becomes very harsh. She meets Suzanne with incredible affection. Suzanne is surprised by the behavior of a nun named Teresa; Suzanne comes to the conclusion that she is jealous of her abbess. The abbess constantly enthusiastically praises Suzanne, her appearance and spiritual qualities, showered Suzanne with gifts, and freed her from services. Sister Teresa is suffering, watching over them; Suzanne cannot understand anything. With the appearance of Suzanne, all the irregularities of the abbess's character were smoothed out; the community is having a happy time. But Suzanne sometimes finds the abbess's behavior strange: she often showered Suzanne with kisses, hugs her, and at the same time becomes very agitated; Suzanne, in her innocence, does not understand what is the matter. One day the abbess visits Suzanne at night. She shivers, she asks permission to lie under the covers of Suzanne, cuddles up to her, but then there is a knock at the door. It turns out that this is Sister Teresa. The abbess is very angry, Suzanne asks to forgive her sister, and the abbess finally forgives. The time for confession is coming. The spiritual father of the community is Father Lemoine. The abbess asks Suzanne not to tell him about what happened between her and Suzanne, but Father Lemoine asks Suzanne himself and finds out everything. He forbids Suzanne to allow such caresses and demands to avoid the abbess, for in her is Satan himself. The abbess says that Father Lemoine is wrong, that there is nothing sinful in her love for Suzanne. But Suzanne, although being very innocent, and does not understand why the abbess's behavior is sinful, still decides to establish restraint in their relationship. Meanwhile, at the request of the abbess, the confessor changes, but Suzanne strictly follows the advice of Father Lemoine. The abbess's behavior becomes very strange: she walks the corridors at night, constantly watches Suzanne, watches her every step, is terribly distressed and says that she cannot live without Suzanne. Happy days in the community are ending; everything is subject to the strictest order. The abbess passes from melancholy to piety, and from him to delirium. Chaos reigns in the monastery. The abbess suffers grievously, asks to pray for her, fasts three times a week, and castigates herself. The nuns hated Suzanne. She shares her grief with her new confessor, Father Morel; she tells him the story of her life, speaks of her aversion to monasticism. He, too, fully opens up to her; it turns out that he also hates his position. They often see each other, their mutual sympathy increases. Meanwhile, the abbess begins a fever and delirium. She sees hell, flames around her, she speaks of Suzanne with immeasurable love, idolizing her. She dies in a few months; Sister Teresa dies soon after.
Suzanne is accused of having bewitched the deceased abbess; her sorrows are renewed. The confessor convinces her to run with him. On the way to Paris, he encroaches on her honor. In Paris, Suzanne lives for two weeks in some kind of brothel. Finally, she escapes from there, and she manages to enter the service of the washerwoman. The work is hard, the food is bad, but the owners are not bad. The monk who kidnapped her has already been caught; he faces life in prison. Her escape is also known everywhere. Mr. Manuri is no longer there, she has no one to consult, she lives in constant anxiety. She asks the Marquis de Croamart for help; says that she just needs a place as a servant somewhere in the wilderness, in obscurity, with decent people.