Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
In researching why women throughout European history have become nuns, Evangelisti (modern history, Univ. of East Anglia, Norwich) found that some chose religion over an unwelcome marriage. Many more, she learned, were forced into convents by parents unable or unwilling to pay high dowries for their daughters' marriages. And still others chose to enter religious life as an alternative to remarriage after their husbands died. For women wanting an education, a convent offered an opportunity for learning and status. Several of the women highlighted here, e.g., Teresa of Avila, were able to create a career in the convents that would not have been possible in the secular world. By the 16th and 17th centuries and against the wishes of the church, women began forming open communities-those not enclosed in a convent-that aided the poor, healed the sick, and taught the community's girls. There are few new ideas in this well-organized, well-researched, fully annotated, and indexed text, but it is certainly valuable to have these historical figures documented in one place. A fine book recommended for public libraries.-Jennifer Kuncken, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Evangelisti (East Anglia) makes a thoroughly researched, interdisciplinary contribution to women's history. She presents convents primarily as a more affordable alternative to the high dowries expected among wealthy families and an escape from unwanted arranged marriages, but also as "a catalyst for cultural creativity among women in communities." The 1450-1700 time frame emphasizes religious enclosure, in contrast to the common medieval view of marriage or the convent as safe and respectable positions for women. The book considers the view of enclosure as freedom from family entanglements, and concludes with the expansion of religious life for women into the New World. Chapters discuss nuns as writers and as producers of music, theater, and the visual arts. One chapter, "Open Communities of Women," recounts the origins of active women's congregations, notably the Ursulines as educators of girls and the Daughters of Charity as nurses, teachers, and caregivers for the poor and needy. One might question the omission of the Beguines in this category. Readers interested in religious life today may regret the absence of any discussion of the post-Vatican II renewal of religious life (cf. M. A. Neal, From Nuns to Sisters, 1990); nonetheless, this is a rich, intriguing contribution for women's history/studies collections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above; general readers. H. J. John emerita, Trinity University (DC)
Author notes provided by Syndetics
Silvia Evangelisti is Lecturer in Early Modern History in the School of History at the University of East Anglia. She has published widely on women and gender history in both English and Italian, looking especially at female religious life in the early modern period.