Letters of a Portuguese Nun

Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering The Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love- by Myriam Cyr

This book was given to me for Christmas, by someone who knew I was reading around the world. Wether or not it counts, and for what country is too hard to decide though. This book is written by a Canadian woman about the Portuguese Letters, so it doesn’t really count for Portugal. The letters are included, so perhaps it could. But then the whole reason this book was written, is because there is doubt as to whether the letters were really written by a Portuguese nun, with some historians arguing that they were written by a Frenchman either to make money, or to prove a point to a friend.

The letters in question are love letters to an officer, from a Portuguese nun- which of course was very improper that they could have formed a relationship. Myriam Cyr argues that a nun names Mariana Alcoforado was truly the author.  She presents facts about what was known about the family Mariana came from, how nunneries were run in her time, the politics surrounding Dom Pedro and Dom Alfonso fighting for the crown, and Portugal and France fighting against the Spanish. She describes the location of Mariana’s nunnery and the social strata and gatherings the officer would have been in in France. And she outlines her suppositions of how the letters came to be published.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the way it was written- She started with the facts and then tried to make it descriptive and like a story, while still making it clear which things were known and which were guesses or made up. This meant it didn’t really flow or capture you in the same way as a historical fiction does. A novel written in a historical time period or about a particular person can still be accurate and factual, and we will all accept that the exact words, or what exact dress people wore etc are going to be made up. The other option would have been to write up her research as a paper.

I did however still find that there were many little interesting points that kept me reading. Mainly when I could start to see interconnections with other facts I knew about history and countries. It is not going to capture an audience like the Phillipa Gregory series, but I found it a pleasant, mildly interesting short read.


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