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humanities 203 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 The final irony, as Penslar notes, is that the labour Zionist project of creating a nation of agricultural workers has given way in contemporary Israel to an occupational structure replicating that of Diaspora Jewry, one in which commercial and professional pursuits are dominant, in keeping with the economic incentives of the Western world. Penslar=s book not only interweaves hitherto scattered strands of Jewish history, but also suggests new avenues of research for historians of modern Jewry. Social scientists from a variety of disciplines may profit from applying Penslar=s questions about the links between collective identity and economic issues to other ethnic and religious groups. (JERRY Z. MULLER) Elizabeth Rapley. A Social History of the Cloister: Daily Life in the Teaching Monasteries of the Old Regime McGill-Queen=s University Press. xiv, 386. $49.95 Elizabeth Rapley is one of a select group of married women academics who study the social history of nuns. Her acknowledgment and introduction to this book thank her husband and point out that she does not derive from Roman Catholic antecedents. She has produced a splendid study of French teaching nuns from the 1630s to 1790, with an afterword about the postrevolutionary situation. There are numerous quotations translated into English from French original documents. The book is divided into two parts, the first sketching in the main developments among teaching nuns considered as a countrywide group of women over two centuries, and the second looking in more detail at the life of cloistered nuns from different orders. She has assembled statistics in a valuable appendix entitled >Demographics of the Cloister.= She poses many hypotheses which will stimulate others doing research. She tries to get away from, or perhaps better tries to read from a fresh perspective, the uplifting and edifying chronologies produced by nuns writing about their individual communities and notable instances of piety. Rapley describes this as >drawing a large picture with material that was originally intended for small pictures.= One original aspect of the book is attention to the economics of the nunneries. Rapley provides detail on the crisis of 1689 brought about by demands from the Crown for delayed taxation. That was followed by the serious losses suffered by convents as a result of the collapse of the John Law experiment in credit. Many houses were in debt. She also has interesting information about the decline in the number of postulants who brought in big dowries, and a decline in the levels of generosity on the part of the wealthiest sectors of French society. The obsessive insistence on clausura (the obligation to remain within the cloister) and on keeping nuns away from men has always given rise to sexual fantasies on the part of some of the latter about the former. Diderot=s 204 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 novel La religieuse, first published in 1783, and Peter Mullen=s film The Magdalene Sisters reveal some of the lesbian undercurrents imagined by men to flourish in the relationships both within the hierarchy of the monastery and also among the girls being taught there. Rapley gives no consideration to such topics. She has more to say about the way in which some widows made arrangements to live in convents. There is an excellent discussion of social inequality inside communities in the chapter dealing with the servants of the brides of Christ. The ideal lay sister was a strong, healthy countrywoman in her twenties who accepted celibacy. Rapley rightly observes that the converses, or lay sisters, have often been overlooked in monastic history despite their importance to the cooking and housekeeping for the teaching nuns. The book offers a great deal for the history of Old Regime French women and for a social history of religion that is gendered. In particular Rapley provides evidence of changing patterns of vocations over time and of the way in which the social hierarchies of the outside world were sometimes replicated within the walls of the convents. (DAVID HIGGS) Lynda Lange, editor. Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau Pennsylvania State University Press. xii, 410...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 203-204
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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