Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Convent Girls edited by Jackie Bennett and Rosemary Forgan

This is a collection of interviews and essays with former convent girls, some extremely famous (Germaine Greer, Anne Robinson, Annie Nightingale) and some not, who share the collective experience of having been educated "by a gang of mad women in flapping black habits" (thanks to Germaine for that description). We even get one male convent girl, who ended up spending a year in a girls' convent due to the date of his birthday. There's an excellent historical survey of nuns and convent educations, and a wide range of experiences: Carmen Callil was miserable, a few years earlier, at the school that Germaine recalls with acerbic fondness. Irish convent girls seem generally less positive, but that may be because of the pervasive influence of the Church in Irish society; they tend to see their nuns as repressed, out of touch with the world, and without value. Others remember inspiring teachers and eccentric role models, especially those women who are not Catholic. My mother was a secular Protestant girl at a Catholic convent, and has fond memories of most of the nuns who taught her, perhaps because religion couldn't follow her home. Marina Warner contributes a typically thoughtful essay, which will cause Alone of All Her Sex to be added to my Amazon wish list.

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