La Religieuse (novel)

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La Religieuse (The Nun or Memoirs of a Nun) is an 18th-century French novel by Denis Diderot. Completed in about 1780, the work was not published until 1796, after Diderot's death.


The novel began not as a work for literary consumption, but as an elaborate practical joke aimed at luring the Marquis de Croismare, a companion of Diderot's, back to Paris. The novel consists of a series of letters purporting to be from a nun, Suzanne, who implores the Marquis to help her renounce her vows, and describes her intolerable life in the convent to which she has been committed against her will.[1][2]

Diderot later revised the letters into a novel drawing attention both to the then-current practice of forcing young women into convents in order to get them out of the way, and the corruption that was supposedly rampant among the clergy and in religious institutions. When Diderot publicly admitted his role in the ruse, the Marquis is said to have laughed at the revelation, unsurprisingly since he had behaved with exemplary compassion and generosity in his willingness to help the imaginary Suzanne.[1]


In the eighteenth century, a young girl named Suzanne Simonin was forced by her parents to pronounce her vows at the end of her novitiate. Indeed, for supposed financial reasons, the latter preferred to lock up their daughter in the convent. It is actually because she is an illegitimate child and her mother is unwilling to use a man's money to support a child that is not his own.

Cinema adaptations[edit]

La Religieuse has been adapted several times for the cinema, most notably in 1966 as The Nun by Jacques Rivette, starring Anna Karina and Liselotte Pulver, and in 2013 as The Nun starring Isabelle Huppert.[1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Abrams, Barbara Lise. (2009). Le Bizarre and Le Décousu in the Novels and Theoretical Works of Denis Diderot: How the Idea of Marginality Originated in Eighteenth-Century France. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 978-0-7734-4663-2
  • Clark, Andrew Herrick. (2008). Diderot’s Part. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-5438-4
  • Crouse, Gale. (Spring 1980). "Diderot's La Religieuse". Explicator 38.3, 1–2.
  • Mourão, Manuela. (Autumn 2001). "The Compromise of Enlightened Rationalism in Diderot's La Religieuse". Romance Quarterly 48.4, 223–239.
  • Mylne, Vivienne. (1981). Diderot, La religieuse. London: Grant & Cutler. ISBN 0-7293-0106-0
  • Vila, Anne C. (September 1990). "Sensible Diagnostics in Diderot's La Religieuse." MLN 105.4, 774–800.
  • Werner, Stephen. (2000). The Comic Diderot: A Reading of the Fictions. Birmingham, Ala.: Summa Publications. ISBN 978-1-883479-31-2


  1. ^ a b c Coatesy, Tendance. "The Nun (La Religieuse): the Book, the Film and Diderot". Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Goldberg, Rita. Sex and Enlightenment: Women in Richardson and Diderot. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521260698, pp. 169–170.

External links[edit]