Aphra Behn’s The History of the Nun (1689) displays a range of narrative peculiarities, related to its narrator, tone, and ending, which frequently puzzle critics and readers. I argue that the epistemological uncertainties that escalate when it is not clear whether detection of crimes requires God’s assistance, empirical observations, or adroit calculations of probability manifest as narrative oddities in Behn’s fiction. By focusing on formal features against a backdrop of theological and philosophical debates about knowledge prevalent at the end of the seventeenth century, this article provides a new explanation for the edgy and unstable narrative traits of Behn’s fiction and responds to the standard critical thinking on the author’s treatment of religion. Irrespective of Behn’s personal beliefs, the form and the plot of The History of the Nun manifest conflicts of a culture that was at once attracted to and troubled by the notion of divine Providence, especially with regard to detection and judgment of crimes.


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pp. 213-238
Launched on MUSE
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