Letters of a Portuguese Nun

I have enjoyed reading Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr (click here to read my other entries about this book).

I found Cyr‘s investigation of this real life mystery intriguing and heart-breaking.

The slim book titled Portuguese Letters and published in 1669 Paris were five letters addressed to an unnamed French Officer, Noel Bouton the Marquis de Chamilly then known as the Count of Saint-Leger, who had been stationed in Portugal from 1665-1667 (during Portugal’s twenty-eight year war for independence from Spain) where he met, seduced and then left a beautiful twenty-six-year-old Franciscan nun named Mariana Alcoforado.

Many scholars argue that these letters were a work of fiction written by Joseph Gabriel de Lavergne, Comte de Guilleragues.

In the prologue, Cyr cites Occam’s razor (a principle that the simplest answer is most likely true) as a reason why Mariana Alcoforado herself wrote these love letters. In subsequent chapters, Cyr writes the history of Mariana Alcoforado using a wide variety of sources. In many cases, Cyr‘s descriptions of Mariana are largely imagined based on sources of nuns from that period in similar circumstances.

Still, her argument is persuasive if only because of the detailed narrative she has put together of the lives of the two lovers.

I haven’t read the actual letters yet but will do so today.


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