An elemental insight into life in a Convent circa 1570...
Most probably never consider the fact that nuns are living flesh with desires, dreams – that not all of them went quietly and willingly. That some were the daughters of nobles, unable or unwilling to give away a dowry that would ensure a good marriage, so instead send them to the comparative freedom of the Convent. That there was freedom in being held prisoner within the four walls of the Convent –a freedom to subtly express individuality, to learn and educate oneself.
For Suora Zuana, as a physician, something she would most certainly have been unable to pursue openly outside the Convent walls, she has learned to embrace the positives in her life. Coupled with a new, unruly Novice Serafina, she must teach the child to resign herself to her new life. Serafina, however, has other plans – determined to thwart the sisters at every turn and secretly biding her time until her lover comes for her, she plots away in her cell for the moment when she will see the outside of the walls that crowd in on her.
In a world dominated by women, it is not surprising that there is a degree of manipulation, no matter that it is carefully worded. Dunant brings to life the verve of Convent existence in a manner unparalleled by other authors; hers is a truly unique perspective, drenched in historic ardour and a precise understanding of the politics of the period. Although we never truly experience the Italy in which Sacred Hearts is set, it is nevertheless captured in monochrome – the black and white through which the nuns contained within the Convent perceive the outside world.
Sacred Hearts is a voyeur’s fantasy – peering into the vagaries of a broad spectrum of female characters; from the fervent and devout to the politically adept. Many of the characters will strike a chord with female readers of all backgrounds without overtly intending to. It is this subtlety and ability to concentrate the various nuances and gradations of individuality that Dunant achieves so well. This is a book to devote time to; to embrace and possess. Dunant extols the inner strength of these women in a approach that can only be described as a labour of love – intricately detailed, historically accurate, Dunant breathes life into the sisters of Santa Caterina and by doing so, makes you proud to be a woman.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012