This book about the life of cloistered nuns was written in 1969. I never read it, because I was not Catholic, and because, well, it was about nuns, for pity’s sake. It was quite popular at the time, was on the Times Best Sellers list for something like 5 months, and was even made into a movie, implausibly starring Diana Rigg. Never saw the movie. Like I said, it was about nuns. And Diana Rigg? Oh, please.
I stumbled across it recently, and because I had been reading a whole spate of mysteries, wanted a change of topic, and thought I would dip into this book, even though I am still not Catholic, but maybe because the idea of nuns has become so much less mysterious and separate that I was interested in getting a look at the contemplative nun of the scapula and wimple and long flowing robes of yore.
What an absolutely beautiful book. There is something of a main character, Philippa, but the full breadth of many of the nuns is explored in compassion and depth. It is not only about the life of some particular nuns, but the life of the Church as it moves through its ecclesiastical year, its comforting sameness solid and secure.
Mz Godden unobtrusively explains the Rule, the unceasing round of prayer, praise, and work continuing “without sloth or haste” through the hours, days, years and centuries, and what makes it work, and how it affects the inner life of its participants. We learn about the postulants, novices, Simple Profession and Solemn Profession.
The Council of Vatican II made many significant and far-reaching changes which shook up the residents of Brede, and the nuns had to learn to adapt and change, understanding that their duty and devotion was to God, and everything else was window dressing to that central idea.
Their days in the monastery are not unceasingly dull; there are stories within stories, and life provides its drama no matter how much we try to hide ourselves away from it.
This is a loving examination, perhaps somewhat idealized, of the lives of contemplatives nuns in the mid 20th century years. Perhaps it still holds today.