Letters of a Portuguese Nun

I very much enjoyed 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 just finished reading this book and the infamous Portuguese Letters letters are lyrical, devastatingly passionate, and bitter as a woman scorned.

While many scholars argue that these letters were a work of fiction written by Joseph Gabriel de Lavergne, Comte de Guilleragues, Cyr persuasively writes that these letters were in fact real love letters written by heart-sick Franciscan nun Mariana Alcoforado to her ex-lover Noel Bouton the Marquis de Chamilly then known as the Count of Saint-Leger.

The account is compelling because of the fascinating narrative she composed of Mariana’s and Chamilly’s lives though here evidence seems to be largely circumstantial (the evidence in favor of Guilleragues seems to also be pretty weak).

I’d like to learn more about this debate and I’ll be sure to report back!

Letters of a Portuguese Nun is an easy read and having learned that the letters have inspired writers and artists for hundreds of years — Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets From the Portuguese” (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”) among other works by Samuel Johnson, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, and others — I am glad to have read this book.


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