Maria Monk : biography
Maria Monk (June 27, 1816 – summer of 1849) was a Canadian woman who claimed to have been a nun who had been sexually exploited in her convent. She, or ghost writers who used her as their puppet, wrote a sensational book about these allegations.
Maria Monk’s book Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed was published in January 1836. In it, Monk claimed that nuns of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph of the Montreal convent of the Hôtel-Dieu, whom she called "the Black Nuns", were forced to have sex with the priests in the seminary next door. The priests supposedly entered the convent through a secret tunnel. If the sexual union produced a baby, it was baptized and then strangled and dumped into a lime pit in the basement. Uncooperative nuns disappeared.
Monk’s errors began early in her story. In her account, she stated that there were three convents in Montreal: "1st. The Congregational Nunnery. 2d. The Black Nunnery, or Convent of Sister Bourgeoise. 3d The Grey Nunnery."Maria Monk, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk: or, The Hidden Secrets of A Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed, Manchester, [England]: Milner, [1836?], page 12. She was, however, confused even on the nature of the orders. The Congregational Nuns were the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, not the Sisters of Charity, as Monk stated at the beginning of her text; the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, whose habits were black but who were not typically called "Black Nuns", operated the Hotel-Dieu, where Monk claimed that she entered and suffered, and it was not founded by "Sister Bourgeoise [sic]"; and it was the Sisters of Charity who were commonly known as the Grey Nuns.
There is some evidence that Maria Monk had suffered a brain injury as a child."Her book, both hotly attacked and defended, continued to be read and believed even after her mother gave testimony that Maria had been somewhat addled ever since childhood, after she had rammed a pencil into her head." Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American PoliticsArchdeacon, Thomas J. Becoming American. 1984, page 76 One possible result of this injury was that Monk was easily manipulated, and was not able to distinguish between fact and fantasy. It has been suggested that Maria Monk was manipulated into playing a role for profit by her publisher or her ghost writers.
Monk traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a lover whom historians often identify as Graham Monk. She penned a sequel, Further Disclosures of Maria Monk.Maria Monk with Rev. J.J. Slocum, Further disclosures by Maria Monk, concerning the Hotel Dieu nunnery of Montreal also, her visit to Nuns' Island, and disclosures concerning that secret retreat : preceded by a reply to the priests' book, New York : J.J. Slocum, 1836 When she gave birth to another child, Oliver (a brother to William), out of wedlock in 1838, most of her supporters abandoned her.
The Boston Pilot published this obituary on September 8, 1849: "There is an end of Maria Monk; she died in the almshouse, Blackwell's Island, still cooking as was her wont, New York, on Tuesday".
Awful Disclosures remained in print for years afterwards and was occasionally revived. There appear to have been two Australian editions (1920, 1940). The last recorded unsupplemented facsimile edition was published in 1977.
The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, excerpt
- The Superior now informed me that having taken the black veil, it only remained that I should swear the three oaths customary on becoming a nun; and that some explanation would be necessary from her. I was now, she told me, to have access to every part of the edifice, even the cellar, where two of the sisters were imprisoned for causes that she did not mention. I must be informed that one of my great duties was to obey the priests in all things; and this I soon learnt, to my utter astonishment and horror, was to live in the practice of criminal intercourse with them. I expressed some of the feelings which this announcement excited in me, which came upon me like a flash of lightning; but the only effect was to set her arguing with me, in favour of the crime, representing it as a virtue acceptable to God, and honourable to me.
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