Two "Escaped Nuns"
Rebecca Reed and Maria Monk
Rebecca Reed's Six Months in a Convent (1835) and Maria Monk's notorious best-seller Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery (1836) provide the two most significant examples of nineteenth-century American anticonvent literature. Both texts offer fascinating examples of a popular historiography that contrasts intriguingly to the elite historiography of William Prescott and Francis Parkman. As we have seen, both Brahmin historians made plausible their working assumption of America's Protestant origins by insisting on the analogy and finally identity of Indian "idolatry" and Catholic "papadolatry," inscribing the corruptions of Old World (principally Italian) Catholicism on little understood Amerindian cultures. Thus Prescott viewed the Aztecs and Parkman the Hurons and Jesuit missionaries through a lens of racial and religious difference that, at least within the discursive terrain of their histories, functioned to construct and reveal the American "past." That "savages" were not (except in French and Spanish territories) really Catholics and Catholic conquistadores or missionaries not really "savages" only permitted a more successful functioning of the ideological resemblance between them.
A similar dynamic, simultaneously privileging European origin and repudiating its Old World impurities, characterized antebellum Protestant clerical discourse about America. That process of purification depended, as we have seen, on importing and depositing the "sediment of misrepresentation" onto New World terrain and tribal cultures. Only thus could Protestant America define itself as a "pure fountain" and maintain its alleged ethnic superiority to Europe. A key means for doing so, as Prescott's and Parkman's histories show, was through the rhetorical appropriation of "Catholicism"—for as the primary index of
European corruption, the "foreign faith" could be transplanted to native cultures, thus permitting white American Protestants to declare themselves the authentic "natives" by divorcing themselves one more time from popery. In the process, these white American Protestants could legitimate their subordination of Indian cultures and renew their racial connection to English and Continental culture, now conceived of as "white" rather than as "Catholic."
Such elite historiographical and clerical struggles with the issues of racial and theological difference, encoded in the strategic antinomy of "past" and "present," can illuminate our understanding of popular historiography's account of Protestantism's American struggles. Specifically, the preoccupation with purity enables us to decipher history that was written as "event," enacted by working- and middle-class people who were by no means historians but who were very much concerned with the historiographic issue of how to correct America's potentially or actually impure development from its vaunted pure origin.
The event I focus on and interpret as a popular historical text dedicated to reasserting an origin that promises the achievement, rather than the loss, of an artisanal Protestant republicanism is the notorious mob attack and burning of the Ursuline convent outside Boston in 1834. Arguably the most important political event in Massachusetts prior to the agitation surrounding the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the Ursuline convent riot signaled the renewal of anti-Catholicism and provided a model for escalating popular demonstrations against hated popery and what were called its priests' prisons. One rioter claimed of the convent, according to a witness at the ensuing trial, "that the institution was a bad one; that the nuns were kept there for a bad purpose; for a certain purpose. He said bishops and priests pretended to live without wives, but that the nuns were kept to supply the deficiency in this particular. He said this in vulgar language." The riot (and the trials that followed) received indignant national attention because of the violence of the working-class mob, composed largely of Scots-Presbyterian bricklayers. For a culture occupied with the supposed perils of Roman Catholicism, the convent burning, occurring at the time of an increasingly profitable Protestant evangelism spurred by a New England religious revival in the winter of 1833, enacted Protestant hostility toward the "foreign faith," exposing working-class Protestant prejudice and its persecutorial energies. The riot and trials enabled Protestants of various social classes to vent their anger against Romanism and also to distance themselves from the "mob." The violence led many observers to fear that Jacksonian democracy could not contain working-class uprisings, much
less enjoin necessary discipline on the American male. "It will be inscribed in our history," declared the attorney general at the trial of one of the ringleaders, "that here, at least the age of chivalry is gone. The mob put down everything and every body."
When a Protestant Bostonian later sought an audience with Pope Gregory XVI, the pope asked him, much to his humiliation, "Was it you who burned my convent?" The question—undeniably parental in its reproachful tone—disturbed not only that New England tourist but many other educated observers as well. What motivated the mob violence, and who was responsible? To the English diarist Frederick Marryat, the convent burning presented Americans another opportunity for self-mystification, not self-examination—a mystification born from narrativizing the event as an allegorical, even Edenic, confrontation between secrecy and curiosity:
The Americans are excessively curious, especially the mob: they cannot bear anything like a secret—that's unconstitutional . It may be remembered, that the Catholic convent near Boston, which had existed for many years, was attacked by the mob and pulled down. I was enquiring into the cause of this outrage in a country where all forms of religion are tolerated; and an American gentlemen told me, that although other reasons had been adduced for it, he fully believed, in his own mind, that the majority of the mob were influenced more by curiosity than any other feeling. The Convent was sealed to them, and they were determined to know what was in it. "Why, sir," continued he, "I will lay a wager that if the authorities were to nail together a dozen planks, and fix them up on the Common, with a caution to the public that they were not to go near or touch them, in twenty-four hours a mob would be raised to pull them down and ascertain what the planks contained." I mention this conversation, to show in what a dexterous manner this American gentleman attempted to palliate one of the grossest outrages ever committed by his countrymen.
On July 28, 1834, Elizabeth Harrison (Sister Mary John), suffering from "delirium," left the Ursuline convent in Charlestown and sought shelter with a neighboring farm family. Shortly thereafter she returned to the convent, escorted by her superior—an episode that (aided by the Boston papers) sparked rumors of the incarceration of helpless females in the convent, females who included not only nuns but boarding school stu-
dents. At the time, the Ursuline convent was providing an aristocratic French education for some forty-seven girls—two-thirds of whom were, ironically enough, the daughters of Boston's Protestant, largely Unitarian, elite, irritated by the conservative Congregationalism of the public schools. Only one-eighth of the students at the Ursuline Academy were Catholic. To the working-class mob of Scots-Presbyterians, Catholics and Unitarians had formed an upper-class combination against Congregationalism. This seemingly paradoxical alliance of Unitarians and Roman Catholics signaled that new rifts in Protestant orthodoxy itself were beginning to displace the traditional antagonism between Protestantism and Catholicism. As many educated Americans already knew, the simplified religious antipathy to Catholicism demonstrated by the mob was fast becoming an anachronism as well as a dangerous diversionary tactic, a false simplication of divisions within Protestant orthodoxy and within the national economy.
Shortly after Elizabeth Harrison's ambiguous flight, one concerned neighbor was given a full tour of the convent and boarding quarters, but his report, scheduled for publication in the Charlestown newspaper, came too late to prevent the riot, which occurred two weeks later. On the Sunday night before the riot, Lyman Beecher delivered three anti-Catholic sermons to huge congregations in three different Boston churches. On the following night, August 11, 1834, a mob of some sixty men, watched by an estimated two thousand spectators, burned the convent to the ground and returned the next night to rip up and burn all the plantings. Early in the attack the twelve nuns, three women servants, and forty-seven students fled the main building and hid in the garden. From their hiding place, they watched the rioters light bonfires in the dormitories, hurl cherished pianofortes out the windows, don the girls' clothing, and then proceed to the convent cemetery to pry open the coffin of a recently deceased nun. Protestant rioters pursued Protestant girls into a peculiar captivity: recalled one schoolgirl fifty years later, "We were shut up in that garden as closely as if we were in a prison, with no place even a temporary refuge from the rioters but the tomb, and the poor girls held the tomb in as much horror as they did the rioters." According to this same student memoir, the rioting did not conclude for over seven hours. A later committee report speculated that the two thousand spectators did not interfere because "from the omission of magisterial influence, doubt and mistrust existed, whether the work were not so sanctioned by popular opinion, or the connivance of those in authority, that resistance would be hopeless."
The exhausted students made their way into Boston the following morning, after a night of walking and hiding in various farmhouses. Sandwiched between Sister Mary John's delirious weekend flight and Reed's soon-to-be-published memoirs of her own imprisonment and escape from the Ursuline convent, this hurried walk of nuns and children emerges as the only genuine escape in a complicated cultural movement of staged invasions and exits. Like antebellum convent fiction itself, historical accounts of the event betray a curious sense of commingled calculation and frenzy. At the trial of the riot leaders, the attorney general sought to convey an image of the crowd violence as precipitate and savage, comparing it to colonial Indian attacks on white settlers, the women and children suddenly "awakened by frightful yells, like those which startled our ancestors, when the warhoop of the native savage burst upon their midnight slumbers." But nearly all accounts suggest that, contrary to the notion of an Indian attack, most inhabitants of the convent knew of the riot in advance; one memoirist of the event even concluded that "there was a strange fatuity in all the proceedings." Louisa Whitney, one of the Protestant scholars, remembers that the day of the riot was a long one of anticipation that turned Monday into "an unexpected holiday." Indeed, the slowed tempo of the experience—the daylong anticipation, the night hours of waiting, the hiding in the garden and then in two consecutive homes, and finally the children's long wandering walk into Charlestown—remained perhaps its most distinctive feature to Whitney, one that led her to suggest its strangely fictive status: "All this has taken nearly as long to tell as it did to happen." Indian captivity served Louisa Whitney, however, to convey not so much the surprise attack of savages as the girls' peculiar experience of rescue. When the exhausted children were finally loaded onto stagecoaches for Boston in the early morning, they met the returning crowd of rioters, who turned around and became their escort, offering an ambiguous protection that to Whitney seemed like Indian captivity made real: "We slowly rode the gantlet between a double file of amiable ruffians."
The intense awkwardness of this processional, in which upper-class Boston adolescent girls consented to forced rescue by working-class men, can be sensed more fully in the realization that the girls were evidently already practiced, even disdainful, readers of Gothic accounts of convent captivity. A fascinating glimpse of their reading habits emerges in an account of the selectmen's tour of the convent on the day of the riot—an inspection that was marked by a "large number of pupils coming to the windows, and addressing us in a very rude and improper manner, in-
quiring, 'have you found her? Did you find her in the tomb? Was she buried alive?'" Embedded in such antagonism, however, was a covert sympathy between these "rude" schoolgirls and the ominous emancipatory crowd that soon arrived. Schoolgirl fantasies about the spaces forbidden the boarders in the convent formed a secret anti-Catholic catalyst for the riots that arose from within, not from outside, the convent. "I do believe these ridiculous fancies, held by Protestant children to account for a novel discipline which they could not comprehend," wrote Louisa Whitney later in life, "obtained circulation among certain classes outside the Convent, and assisted in bringing on the catastrophe which destroyed the school." Such an account intriguingly suggests that the schoolgirls themselves had a hand in the writing of this riot.
The riot and the ensuing trials of eight men (all of whom were eventually exonerated) for the capital offenses of arson, burglary, and murder were presided over by Melville's father-in-law, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw. They attracted national publicity as a sensational exposé not only of convents but also, as mentioned earlier, of the dangers of "mobocracy." The dual nature of the sensation significantly links the nun and the American worker as joint figures of unrest. The rioters were not so much mobocratic, they declared in their defense, as chivalric, for they were bent on the rescue of imprisoned maidens and refrained from setting fire to the convent, according to trial testimony, "till they were satisfied there was no woman in the house." Trial testimony by one bystander confirmed that he "heard them say that no females should be hurt, but the cross must come down."
A frankly misogynist dislike of the mother superior accompanied such chivalry, however; she was described in trial documents as the "unconscious cause of all this loss, trouble, sensation, and disgrace." Virtually all the trial documents imply that violently contested proprietary rights over the female were at the base of the rioters' chivalric nativism. This contestation was further complicated by the implicit class antagonisms between the working-class male rioters and the upper-class females they "rescued." Thus one of the riot leaders, James Logan, vocalized the volatile proximity between the "feminine" (figured alternately as a foreign haughtiness and a native-born helplessness) and the inequities of private property. Of the rioters' pursuit of the mother superior, Logan testified: "They searched, and gave up endeavoring to find her, and then began breaking up the furniture." Described in other testimony as a "figurehead made of brass," the superior attracted an invective conventionally reserved for the pope (as Antichrist) and one that categorized her as property, and fraudulent property at that.
But for all the hostile focus on the mother superior, human beings finally emerge in the riot writings as curiously passive agents—secondary to the more compelling activity of property, specifically the illicit investigation, theft, and destruction of Catholic church possessions by the Protestant worker. An 1870 anonymous compilation of newspaper accounts and trial materials surrounding the convent episode suggests the charismatic aura that clung to this plunder:
On the Wednesday after the conflagration, Henry Creasy of Newburyport, a man about thirty-five years of age, committed suicide at the Bite Tavern by cutting his throat. Many rumors were circulated about the deceased,—that he had the communion chalice of the Convent in his possession, etc.; but it was only discovered that he had stated, just before he killed himself, that he had some of the sacramental wafer in his possession; and afterwards two pieces of the consecrated bread, which came from the chalice, were found in his pocket.
As the crowd oscillated between the rescue and destruction of the Catholic female (ambiguously figured as captive nun and indoctrinated boarder), the propertied figure of the Protestant daughter remained untouched by the mob—islanded as the representation of inaccessible wealth. One of those Protestant daughters herself spoke these architectonics of provocative property, reminiscing that the convent's "handsome building . . . invited the curiosity that it repelled."
In the advertisement of its curriculum, the convent frankly identified its educational services as designed to inculcate an aristocratic and highly self-controlled femininity in its students. The school's disciplinary agenda (the curriculum required students to maintain silence for nine hours daily) subjected boarders to a regimen excluded from but similar to that of the convent nuns.
From our historical distance it is possible to read in the anticonvent literature's depiction of the Ursulines' collectivized, regimented curriculum and ownership of luxury goods a veiled attack on the perplexing transformation of the workplace in New England's economy from traditional to incipiently rationalized—a change that manifested itself early on in the routinized factory labor of the new mill towns of eastern Massachusetts. The market's encroachment on the domain of the "native" New England agrarian economy and the added threat of immigrant
labor to overturn the ideology and prerogatives of artisanal republicanism lie encoded in this conspicuously gendered convent discourse. The Scots-Presbyterian bricklayers who formed the core of the mob and who understood themselves as chivalric agents vented their anger over their own decline in status and decreasing wages on a convent community of leisured women, hidden from public view, supported by foreign capital—and, to the extent that the Ursulines garnered the allegiance of Protestant women, a community that disrupted masculine control of the family. Paradoxically, then, the convent emblematized not just reactionary Old World power but also fearsome economic inequities of American industrialization. In this translation of the economic into the religious, convents were frequently called factories of the spirit that subjected their inhabitants to unnaturally long hours of repetitive tasks for the antiscriptural sake of instilling obedience to a superior, conventionally accused for her own repudiation of the maternal. As an anti-reproductive, authoritarian system, the convent held up linked images of mechanization and aristocratic wealth, both of which excluded a "native" artisanal class.
For a nation growing uncomfortably aware that its own revolution had confirmed rather than reformed unequal property and gender relations, the link between Boston's propertied class and the "Whore of Babylon" articulated a conspiratorial duplicity at the heart of American republicanism. Built, inconveniently enough, within sight of Bunker Hill, the Ursuline convent desecrated the terrain of revolutionary struggle. The wave of anticonvent propaganda that followed the convent burning often resorted to the twin appeal of seduction and revolution, violated woman and nation, as if to perfect a still incomplete American Revolution. Pamphlets and ephemeral tales reiterated that it was imprisoned femininity on revolutionary soil that justified the mob violence. Thus Charles Frothingham's Convent's Doom: A Tale of Charlestown in 1834 —a brief work that sold forty thousand copies in its first week of publication—claimed that the need to rescue stolen daughters, sisters, or fiancées was the legitimate reason behind the burning. Patriarchal and patriotic duties called for the convent's destruction since, as one virtuous arsonist explained, the Founding Fathers "thought not that within site of Bunker Hill, where the blood of heroes flowed, a Convent would be established, and their granddaughters become its inmates." The convent exposé genre, as developed with Ursuline riot materials, applies the conventional features of Catholic imprisonment, indoctrination, and persecution inherited from the English and European Gothic traditions to address the failures of the American Revolution; feminine violation and Catholic
secrecy obliquely critique the limitations of democratic republicanism and even the suspicious new powers of the court. One handbill circulated at the trial's opening even extended the promise of revolutionary heroism for those who resisted the nunlike deceptions of a sacerdotal Superior Court: "Liberty or death! Suppressed evidence, Sons of Freedom! Can we live in a free country, and bear the yoke of priesthood, veiled in the habit of a profligate Court?" The prosecution countered that the riot offered the sad spectacle of generational decline from the heroic Founding Fathers and that the glory of Bunker Hill was offensively disfigured by the "black embattlements" on Mount Benedict.
Imagining every conceivable iniquity behind the impassive exterior of convent walls, American Protestant authors formulated a conspiratorial rhetoric that identified Catholicism's deviant metaphysic not only with the reduced promise of democracy but also with the burdens imposed by the new privacy of the middle-class family. The cloistered celibate women of the Ursuline convent attracted hostile scrutiny from passersby; what sort of family life was practiced behind convent walls? Even more disturbing, what sort of power was given to women in the relative absence of men? Responding to the suspicion that Catholics practiced what Protestants termed Mariolatry and, in so doing, gave earthly women aside from Mary too much power, the mother superior was called on at the trial to explain the political and familial hierarchies that ordered the Ursuline community. Chief Justice Shaw, who had dismissed the anti-Catholic prejudices of the jury as irrelevant, ruled that such inquiries had bearing on the trial proceedings. Yet when Rebecca Reed later took the stand, he intervened in her cross-examination to rule that "neither party could go into the internal character of the institution," a decision that reportedly "greatly disappointed many present, who wished to have all the inside arrangements of the Convent revealed to them." While Reed was protected by Shaw's intervention, the mother superior was forced to reveal the internal familial relations that supported her authority. The superior's attempt to normalize her position against Reed's specific charges of having been coerced into worshiping the mother superior speaks to the collision of two family structures, Protestant patriarchy and Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy. On the second day of her testimony, the superior thus attempted to explicate the convent's communal structure and to stabilize her position within it.
The community sometimes call me mother ; sometimes President , but usually "ma mère." The words divine mother are never applied to me. Confessions are never made to me, but to the Rt. Rev. Bishop, or in his absence to some other clergyman.
I confess to the bishop. The confessions are made once a week. We apply the word divine only to the divinity. I do not represent the Virgin Mary, but am considered in the light of the mother of a family.
Convent life inverted and subverted acceptable patterns of female mobility: women were physically constrained but, from the perspective of the Protestant patriarchy, ideologically unavailable. The rule of enclosure symbolized an imprisonment that ambiguously contained female escape. Cloistered women, then, were captives in need of rescue but also, as the interrogation of the mother superior makes clear, cultural deviants in need of control.
In addition to the superior's masculine, aristocratic hauteur, further instances of female pathology circulated in the riot documents. According to the Charlestown citizens' committee, when the attack began the convent harbored "one . . . in the last stages of pulmonary consumption, another suffering under convulsion fits, and the unhappy female, who had been the immediate cause of the excitement, [and] was by the agitations of the night in raving delirium." Virtually all the documents imaginatively oppose the "delirium" of Elizabeth Harrison and the masculine control of the mother superior. "Of the Lady Superior, to whose stern and unyielding course during the excitement and difficulties which preceded the riot, the disaster has been often attributed, there have been strange and contradictory rumors, both before and since the time of the trials. She was a woman of masculine appearance and character, high-tempered, resolute, defiant, with stubborn, imperious will." Indeed the riot and ensuing trials continually reverted to the issue of female impropriety, for during the riot the superior allegedly provoked the mob by an ill-timed assertiveness that contravened customary female deference. The defense counsel for four of the rioters, in his opening remarks, argued that notions of conspiracy were groundless; rather the superior had brought on the attack herself. His key proof "was the language of the Lady Superior to the rioters; in relation to which the counsel said that had she addressed them in different terms, it was his firm belief that the Convent would be now standing on Mount Benedict."
Unfortunately, Attorney General Austin's main example of violated female American virtue—this same mother superior—continued her un-American bearing in court, appearing heavily veiled when called to testify and admitting under cross-examination that two days prior to the riot she had responded to a neighbor's warning of impending trouble by threatening that "the Right Reverend Bishop's influence over ten thousand brave Irishmen might lead to the destruction of his [the neighbor's]
property, and that of others also." At the later trial of three rioters, a witness to the riot testified that the superior even more pointedly refused the protection of Protestant chivalry for one of her companions:
This witness, it will be remembered, stated that when he went up with the mob at the earlier part of the evening, they were addressed by a lady from a window, whose observations almost induced them to disperse; that he and others then offered the lady their protection, upon which the Superior appeared at another window and told them she did not require to be protected.
In the vocabulary of this chivalric anti-Catholicism, convent walls held not only kidnapped maidens but women whose tyrannous faith mysteriously enabled a troublesome autonomy.
I was troubled in various ways by Romans .
Supplement to "Six
Months in a Convent"
Rebecca Reed's Six Months in a Convent (1835) was complexly implicated not only in the riot and its aftermath but in the larger American project to assert a native Protestant cultural origin. The text, written by Rebecca Theresa Reed, a self-described "escapee" from the Ursuline convent who had lived there for six months as a "charity scholar" three years prior to the riot, sold ten thousand copies in Boston in its first week of publication. Reed's editor argued that it was absurd "to trace the origin of a formidable conspiracy to a mere girl!" (Introduction, 17). Nonetheless, Reed's narrative of captivity and abuse in the Ursuline convent was a significant incitement to the mob violence, the trial verdicts, and the Ursuline community's eventual failure to receive any reparation from the Massachusetts legislature for the total loss of their property. Reed later claimed that her book was not an incendiary exposé but rather a spiritual autobiography and, even more, a confession of theological errancy written to argue for her readmission to the Episcopal church.
Although not published until 1835, Reed's story circulated locally prior to the riot, for at school one student remembered having "assisted at various disputes held among the girls about that notorious book, 'Six Months in a Convent,' and the character of its author. Following the riot, Reed's text served as the event's chief product and legitimation, both
parent to the event and its most dazzling offspring. A key witness at the ensuing trials of the rioters, Reed testified with "modest deportment" to the truth of her narrative, one that details her naive desire to retire from the world, subsequent realization of her imprisonment as a "novice," and final escape to a neighboring house through the convent gate, which, she rather charmingly confesses, she found "unfastened" (174). Her narrative and her testimony provoked in their turn an indignant rejoinder from the mother superior titled An Answer to Six Months in a Convent Exposing Its Falsehoods and Manifold Absurdities . . . (1835)—a document that incited Reed and her editor to collaborate in writing the document called Supplement to "Six Months in a Convent" Confirming the Narrative of Rebecca Reed . . . by the Testimony of More Than One Hundred Witnesses " (1835). The mother superior declared ludicrous Reed's captivity to "Roman bondage," priestly mind reading, and austere regimentation and especially her escape, since Reed might have just as easily "used the front door."
This swirl of documents and their characteristic alternation between terror and violence on the one hand and ridiculous farce on the other testify to a volatile confusion—between fiction and historical event, between exposé and legal testimony— characteristic of anti-Catholic discourse in this period. Emerging from and in turn inciting the "mob," Reed's "insider" fiction of female captivity, disillusion, and escape is marked as well by developing processes of mass literary production. Designed for quick consumption, her narrative speaks an abbreviated, hasty language of scandalous exposure. And as a collaborative project between an "escaped nun" and her "editor," the convent exposé marks the anomalous, incendiary, and highly profitable appropriation of the amateur and sentimental female voice by the male nativist. As such, Reed's Six Months stands as an intriguing example of popular female authorship, a text ambiguously dictated, edited, and eagerly publicized by market-conscious anti-Catholic clergy who enjoyed exclusive profits to the best-seller.
Simultaneously slipshod and compelling, Reed's narrative denies any interest in formal composition, offering instead a fractured structure whose very defects oddly mimic the authentic voice of victimized childhood. Thus she recounts her early ascetic preparations for joining the Ursulines: "I knew of no greater sacrifice I could at that time make, than to give up all the treasures my dear mother left me. I also gave my globe and goldfish" (65-66). Reed's story develops a further plausibility of sorts through breezy disavowals of any need for detail. "For some days," she informs us, "I was not well, and my mind, as may naturally be
supposed, sympathized with my body, and many things occurred that were to me unpleasant, which I shall pass unnoticed" (166). Like America's first best-seller, Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple (1791), Reed's convent exposé ignores the etiquette of the belles lettres tradition to create a newly intimate voice of exploitation that produced legions of true believers. If generations of Charlotte Temple readers visited the Trinity Church graveyard where Charlotte supposedly lay interred, leaving tearful mementos on her unmarked grave, readers of Rebecca Reed responded by insisting that convents in their vicinity be inspected, their captives liberated, their buildings burned. And like Rowson before her, Reed shows a skillful ability to convert the language of female victimization into aggressive indictment. Thus in a public letter defending herself against having caused the riot, Reed suavely directs the rioters' own vernacular against her accusers: "That it should be publicly said of me, by one who holds a seat upon the judge's bench, that I have been the cause of the 'popular feeling' . . . is an invasion of defenceless female innocence, if possible, more barbarous than that invasion of private rights, which has called forth so much public discussion" (Introduction, 30). Reed's rhetorical stance shows the precariousness of her position, for she violates the sentimental literary conventions of female victimization (chief among which, if we are to believe Charlotte Temple , is that one should die rather than speak), by writing an exposé that, while claiming her own continuing need for "retirement" from the world, promptly invades and manipulates the public arena of the courtroom.
If the Unitarian upper class disdained the bigotry of Calvinist Lyman Beecher's antipopery sermons and coveted the European refinement offered their daughters by the French-educated Ursulines, their daughters still read fiction such as Reed's. One Ursuline boarder, for example, remembers reading a similar narrative, Mrs. Sherwood's Nun , shortly before the riot occurred. Orthodox Congregationalist (or Presbyterian) working-class readers read anticonvent literature like Reed's with a scriptural conviction one imagines lacking in the Unitarian schoolgirl reader. Orphan girl and "charity scholar" (neither nun nor affluent boarder), female author, and, as she later described herself, "Catholic Episcopalian," Reed locates herself in no interpretive camp. Rather, she functions as connecting link, permitting an explosive confrontation between the propertied and the dispossessed. If the riot circulated through Reed's text, the contradictions of New England culture circulate through her voice, the seduced and violated voice of the "orphan girl." The motif of the abandoned child emerges fully in the mother superior's response to Reed's literary production. "I had discovered her to be a foolish, romantic
girl, and felt no interest in her" (An Answer to Six Months , 30). Reed's complaint against the superior was precisely that she refused to play the nurturing maternal role central to sentimental Protestantism. In Reed's indignant words: "I had then permission to go to the choir, where I immediately fainted, at which the Superior was angry, and said in a whisper she had told me I ought not to have any feelings " (98-99). Sensitive to the manipulation but not the motives behind it, the superior pictures Reed as a swindling trickster who "could always find ready listeners, by whom the supposed secrets of a cloister or a nunnery must have been greedily listened to" (An Answer , 2). Convent life, in the superior's estimation, did not incarcerate this Protestant girl, as nativists believed, but rather gave Reed "an opportunity of indulging her idle habits, her wanderings from house to house, her talents for mimicry, her desire of display without the labor of preparation, and her enthusiasm in the cause of a new religion,—all at our expense" (An Answer , 2).
The story Reed records of the Catholic seduction of the Protestant girl finally serves to seduce American readers into submerging their class and gender antagonisms for the sake of acquiring a "native" American identity. In evident contrast to the multivolume histories produced by Prescott and Parkman, the welter of material surrounding the Ursuline convent riot is marked by divided and divisive political agendas and philosophical affiliations—conflicts that problematize the status of the writings precisely because the protracted and often vehement debates over what or who caused the riot, over who should be punished and how, and finally over the "meaning" of the event prevented any single text from claiming a coherent generic identity. Thus fictional accounts like Frothingham's Convent's Doom and Reed's autobiography and spiritual confession both represent themselves as factually responsible history, whereas much of the trial testimony, as oral history, is frankly saturated with references to various anti-Catholic fictions like Reed's Six Months , Mrs. Sherwood's Nun , and Beecher's Plea for the West —all variously pointed to as evidence explaining, if not justifying, the behavior of the rioters.
This confusion over evidential boundaries extended from the various quarrels, before and after the riot, about the Ursuline convent's "trespass" on the holy ground of America's revolutionary struggle to the stories of alleged trespass on convent grounds by neighboring (Presbyterian) laborers. Coincident to the riot, Charlestown selectmen were also prosecutors in a trespass lawsuit against Bishop Fenwick; having purchased land on Bunker Hill for a Catholic cemetery, the bishop was then forbidden to bury two Catholic children there. He did so anyway and was sued by the city of Charlestown for violating city health regula-
tions. The bishop's "pollution" of a Protestant terrain made sacred by the civil religion of the Revolution was soon countered with a Protestant invasion of the convent's sacred precincts. In the days before the riot, three women trespassed on convent grounds to get to the turnpike road; ordered by the superior to turn the women back, her Irish servant Peter Rossiter directed them off convent grounds. For this, Rossiter was severely whipped by John Buzzell, a ringleader of the riot.
One of the most revealing characteristics of the convent captivity fiction of the 1830s is its determined imaginative trespass into Romanism's illicit and alluring interiors. Directly after the riot, a citizens' committee established to investigate its causes declared the Ursulines reputable only because their public function as teachers excused the otherwise debatable features of monastic life; as teachers, the nuns "devote themselves to those services and the cause of humanity which render them at all times subjects of public observation; and expose their personal deportment, as well as the character of their institution, to the strictest scrutiny." The "trespassings" point us back to the confusion over the nature of convent family life and the contested boundary between private behavior and "public observation." As in the mother superior's struggles to define and not define herself as "mother," the riot material everywhere betrays a preoccupation with boundary; the consequent fluidity of textual genre attaches to Reed herself, the convent victim who still advocates retirement from the world after her escape back into it, and to Reed's editor, who expresses discomfort at the convent's institutional ambiguity. "The Convent," he declares in his introduction to Reed's narrative, "was either a religious establishment, for the worship of Roman Catholics, or it was a seminary of learning for the education of Protestant young ladies. If it were the former, it was no place for Protestant children. If it were the latter, then it is entitled to no sanctity" (Introduction, 43).
Such fluid boundaries characterize elite antebellum historiography as well. One thinks not only of Prescott's Cortés as an imperial creator of boundary, forging the outline of New Spain as he progresses into Mexico's interior (an activity accompanied by Prescott's shifting meditations on the proper boundaries between civilized, "barbarian," and "savage" groups), but also of elite history's generic preoccupation with the assertion of boundary. The tableaux that dramatize Prescott's account of Cortés's invasion and Parkman's "forest history," the elaboration of the "characters" of the principal historical actors, the pictorial displays of
landscape, and even the ambivalent appeal to providential design, destinarianism, and Anglo-Saxon superiority—all constitute fictive narratives designed not only to vivify romantic historiography but also to supply essential explanatory systems that can give data the ontological status of "facts." Romantic narrative history adroitly mixed novelistic and archival materials to serve an evolutionary progression toward a racially and spiritually monistic world. Reviewing Prescott's Catholicized account of Aztec sacrifice, for example, one sympathetic Unitarian approvingly noted that sacrifice had progressed from the corruption of material offerings to the superior purity of spiritual ones because the "mode of historical development is that of a separation of things mixed, allowing individual representations to both of the contending principles." To find historical texts where that separatist dynamic is contested, we must turn away from elite histories, for the processes creating their narrative coherence, if not their complexity and elegance, are the same ones creating their persuasive, potentially punitive ideological coherence. There is an unmediated connection, in other words, between Prescott's melodramatic felicities of style and characterization and his overarching "point": that Mesoamerican culture, vitiated by its cult of human sacrifice and tyranny, very properly gave way to the moral and racial superiority of Cortés.
The Ursuline convent riot, occurring some nine years before the publication of Prescott's Conquest of Mexico , provides us with just such a vernacular historiography that voices rather than controls ethnic, gender, and economic difference and that betrays not just antagonism but an equally volatile confusion. The discursive freedom that manifests itself in the characteristic volatility of Reed's speaking "I"—whose outrage backs onto a poignant sense of abandonment—promptly infects the stability of the event reported on by that "I." Thus Reed, describing the burial of a nun, appends this footnote to her description of the funeral: "My feelings were much hurt to witness the manner in which the lid of the coffin was forced down to its place. The corpse had swollen much, and become too large for the coffin" (138). Such generically inappropriate detail infantilizes Reed's historical voice but, in so doing, ironically authenticates the voice of the "escapee"; it marks the narrative as ineluctably "female," amateur, and outside classic historiography, where the management of point of view makes visible the point of access to foreign cultures and registers the epistemological control of genteel New England over the dispersed, subordinate groups that have neither points of view nor a viewing point onto the superordinate culture.
Reed's intriguing, sensational, and sense-bound exposé of iniquities behind convent walls seemingly advertises a blatant point of view—that
of Protestant working-class animus against Irish Catholic immigrant labor and Protestant clerical animus against its major ecclesiastical rival—an ideological stance whose simplification and vehemence contrast to the almost luxuriant ambivalence of writers like Prescott and Parkman, whose rhetorical "mixture" of nostalgia and Protestant supremacism accompanies the strenuous work of separation and cleansing of "things mixed" in their histories. But their continual questioning of source materials and their self-conscious musings on the historian's tenuous perspectival position—precisely the constituent features of their point of view—enable their historiography to achieve representational dimensionality and a relative philosophical coherence. Reed's convent history works precisely otherwise: its refusal to entertain ambiguity, its all-out attack on the villainy of popery, and its "pure" reading of the riot as necessary American return to a cleansed Protestant origin signal a paradoxical inability to maintain difference. Even the operative identification between the "savage" and the "Catholic"—inherited by Prescott and Parkman from seventeenth-century New England captivity narratives and put to such effective rhetorical use in their representations of the "frontier" as a terrain disabled by its primitivism and tainted affiliation with Catholic Europe—is disrupted in the Ursuline riot discourse.
As we have seen, Massachusetts Attorney General Austin, in his closing argument for the prosecution, labeled the white "American" laborers, not the Catholics whom they attacked, as the "savages" attacking defenseless women and children in the middle of the night. But this wholesale attack on the "foreign," while arguably serving the same rhetorical and ideological enterprise as elite historiography's Anglo-Saxonism, accomplishes something else entirely: a calling into question of the very practice of reading, a breaking through the distances that organize textual interpretation into an intimate rhetorical terrain of lawless proximity, of trespass and even touching. These problematics of touching surface in Reed's indictment of convent life when she claims that "never to touch anything without permission" was one of the community's chief rules, a taboo meant to symbolize the excesses of Catholic totalitarianism and exclusivity. Her divulgence of this prohibition makes her exposé itself a bold and excessive touching, one that breaks out of not only Protestant boundaries but also the generic boundaries that enforce literary proprieties. If the mother superior constantly bans the gratification of curiosity, Reed's book will solicit and satisfy it.
Reed's Six Months in a Convent dwells in a stasis of unresolvable conflict that characterizes itself not as ambiguity (as it does for elite male writers like Prescott and Parkman) but as rhetorical disjointedness. A collision between religious and class antagonisms makes it impossible to
decide which was worst: the foreign religion, the anarchist threat of the native-born working class, or the emancipated woman. This confusion suggests a disordered symbolic landscape beneath (or alongside) American master narratives of revolutionary origin and purified separation from the contaminants of the Old World and the racially "inferior" cultures of the American hemisphere. This terrain, along with Catholic iniquity, is what this vernacular history written by an "orphan girl" exposes. A lengthy "supplement" to Reed's novella, published to defend Reed's allegations and to respond to the mother superior's own devastating "answer" to Reed's story, suggests what we might call the reproductive confusion between "foreign" and "native" at work in Reed's narrative. The supplement's author writes of the convent:
It was wholly foreign ; having been founded, in 1820, by two foreigners , who imported four Ursuline foreigners into this country for that purpose, and in 1826 and 1827 [established] the Nunnery of foreign money , collected by a Mr. John Thayer in Rome and Ireland, (an American, we blush to add,) who rejoiced in the American Revolution only as the means of accomplishing a "much more happy revolution," in the supremacy of the Pope in America!
In contrast to the separation of "things mixed" that characterizes the canonical romantic historians, Reed's novella, the mother superior's "answer," and Reed's editor's "supplement"—whether individually anti- or pro-Catholic, anti- or pro-working class—demonstrate a frenetic involvement in the foreign, even an attachment to it, that presents itself alternately in the guise of vehement denunciation and desiring curiosity. Thus Rebecca Reed characterizes the mother superior as someone fantastically interested in her. "Presently the Superior joined me, wishing to know how I liked the garden, the flowers, etc. Observing a pocket album in my hand, she asked what I had hoarded up there. . . . She took it, and examining it, desired to know if I wished to keep some money I had in it. . .. She also requested me to sing" (71-72). Even this. brief excerpt of Reed's prose shows how little her ephemeral style appeals to the organizing and suppressive powers of genre.
Reed's convent story and the mother superior's "answer" advertise only one generic affiliation—that of the exposé, whose indiscriminate conclusions, yoking the demonic, the sentimental, and the trivial in episodic historical account, are meant to authenticate the discriminating power of what Reed's editor calls the "Protestant eye." Reed and her mother superior, as two amateur historians of an event in which both
serve variously as author, perpetrator, and victim, construct unmethodized, unpredictable accounts that are undisciplined by any circumventing generic requisites. Exposé quite simply problematizes explanation just as narrative history enables it. What are we to make, for example, of Reed's diagnosis of her quasi-tubercular condition, which, like her portrait of the consumptive nuns coerced into an exhausting regime of austerities, is meant to endow her with the charismatic status of victim to Catholic iniquity?
My lungs were also very sore in consequence of repeating the offices; so much so, that when present at recreation, when I had permission to speak, it gave me pain rather than pleasure. I have, since leaving the Convent, consulted several physicians, who have expressed it as their opinion, that the cause of my bleeding at the lungs, which frequently occurs, was originally the repeating the office and other services, in one long, drawling tone , which any one can know by trying to be very difficult. (108n.)
This improbable diagnosis, which targets Catholic liturgical practices as probable pathogen for lung conditions still beyond the therapeutic control of American medical practice, betrays its own instability in the narrative's conclusion. There, such diagnoses evaporate in the face of Reed's startling return to Protestantism's strenously advertised dependence upon "private judgment"—a dependence that, as Orestes Brown-son famously charged, backed precariously onto indeterminacy and a self-imprisoning subjectivism. Reed closes her exposé of Ursuline authoritarianism and corruption with a Protestant challenge to the reader's autonomous interpretation that finally subverts the claims of her own history. "And I leave it with the reader to judge of my motives for becoming a member of the Ursuline Community, and for renouncing it" (186). This sudden, almost cavalier retreat from her claim to provide a true history is presumably meant to advertise her invulnerability to such inspection. But as the conclusion to her lengthy indictment, this very Protestant invitation unsettles the historical project.
Reed's history of life in the convent, then, as it lurches from one inappropriate juxtaposition to the next, alerts us to the coercive smoothness of classic romantic historiography. Ironically instituting itself through a nativist discourse adamantly claiming to read the Catholic other, to decipher its deceptive ways, and, in so doing, to regulate the relation between a purified past and present, Reed's history disrupts that agenda, unwittingly supplanting the protective and stratified structures of class, religious, and ethnic antagonisms with a rhetoric of undiffer-
entiated anxiety—indiscriminate in diagnosis, negligent of boundary, resistant to closure.
After several unsuccessful attempts to gain reparation from the state of Massachusetts for an estimated property loss of one hundred thousand dollars, the impoverished Ursuline community was finally forced to leave for Canada in 1838.
In January 1836 the most widely read convent captivity narrative, Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery , was published, selling three hundred thousand copies before the Civil War—to be out-sold only by Stowe's great exposé of slavery, Uncle Tom's Cabin . An intriguing instance of collaborative writing, Monk's story was originally fabricated with the help of a little-known former priest named Hoyt and taken from Monk's dictation by a group of nativist and abolitionist men, adept at creating and projecting the sentimental voice of the captive Protestant heroine. Among these men was Jonathan Edwards's probable great-grandson Theodore Dwight, who tried, unpersuasively, to claim that Monk's work was a historical romance: "The story, short as it is, for simplicity and pathos is not unworthy the genius and talents of a Scott." But as recognized then and since, Monk's story was hardly directed to a genteel audience, for her salacious revelations of life in a Montreal convent, while intended to bolster the claims of middle-class domesticity (and benefit from the success of Rebecca Reed's convent narrative), were meant to be read somewhere ambiguously outside but near the sacred precinct of the home. If the composition of Monk's actual readership remains difficult to trace, her story of female victimization, partially written by and for men, is a "masculine" tale that registers middle-class "feminine" concerns with domesticity. At once quasi-pornographic and sentimental, the Awful Disclosures defends its own violations of readerly etiquette as necessary to warn parents, "even if delicacy must be in some degree wounded by revealing the fact." Thus, like Harriet Jacobs, who later struggled with the delicate exposure of her indelicate sexual enslavement, Monk reaches for her "virtuous reader" by detailing the depth and breadth of her most unvirtuous captivity, enough so that the lower-class licentiousness of her narrative comes to function as an index of her middle-class propriety. Unable to gain the dignity of a court appearance like Rebecca Reed, forced therefore to "make my accusations through the press" (5), Monk works all the harder to write a middle-class best-seller of womanly trials and fortitude.
Unlike Rebecca Reed, Maria Monk had never been a charity scholar or even a novice but was in fact the nun's alter-image, a prostitute, who in 1834 had been taken into the Magdalen Asylum and was dismissed when she became pregnant (raped, she claimed, by a priest; Fig. 6). From there she made her way to New York and literary notoriety. Picking up where Reed left off, Maria Monk lavished on her readers fantastic descriptions of convent lechery and murder, a fantasia of captivity and escape from popish perils that encloses the largely unspoken drama of her "fallen womanhood" and its appropriation by a righteous male nativism to attack the "Whore of Babylon." As Maria "Monk" she is also a curious double of the licentious priests whom she exposes as the cause of her own prostituted status—the sexual chaos and shame of her prostitution explained and contained by its resituation in the convent. Its vague clipped style reminiscent of Reed's, Monk's Awful Disclosures portrays the frailty of Protestant girlhood, a vulnerability ultimately traceable, as for Charlotte Temple and Rebecca Reed, to the perils of "private judgment," which fails to decipher the calculations of the seducer. The abbreviated quality of Monk's narrative indicates more particularly the shared familiarity of her readers with this anticonvent discursive terrain of a Protestant feminine judgment bewildered by the labyrinthine structures of priestly power and desire.
Accusing her mother superior of an aggressive (hence depraved) female sexuality, Maria Monk claims that the superior played the role of brothel director, assigning sexual duties to her nuns and regulating the procedures for the murder of their infants. Of the priests, Maria confessed, somewhat disarmingly, to her readers that "often they were in our beds before us" (128). Monk depicts the Hotel Dieu Nunnery as the New World counterpart to Rome's "corrupt" topography, on which Protestant tourists ruminated; the priests soon inform her that "the chambers of pollution are above, and that the dungeons of torture and death are below; and that they dread the exposure of the theatre on which their horrific tragedies are performed" (344). This architectural hierarchy of vice provided by the priestly guide renders iniquity reassuringly organized and tangible—a demimonde version of Fourier's phalansteries of pleasureful living but also, perhaps more significant, a materialized architectonics of suffering that enables the representation of an otherwise unspeakable dimension of the profane: that inhabited by "fallen" women.
At the core of Monk's Gothic narrative of sex and infanticide is a troubled revelation of the perils of family estrangement. Like Rebecca Reed and the young heroine of Susan Warner's Wide, Wide World (1850),
Monk is a virtual (if not actual) orphan, distanced from her mother and beset by her arbitrary maternal power, confessing at one point:
I shall not attempt to justify or explain my own feelings with respect to my mother, whom I still regard at least in some degree as I ought. I will merely say, that I thought she indulged in partialities and antipathies in her family during my childhood; and that I attribute my entrance into the nunnery, and the misfortunes I have suffered, to my early estrangement from home, and my separation from family. (269)
Monk's criticism of her mother's violation of the maternal ideals of Protestant domesticity underlies her attack on the convent's antifamilial project. Her fragmented narrative voice (one further primitivized by the compositional processes of dictation and editorial interpolation) speaks in the tones of the outraged child, forced into an adulthood of prostitution that "cloisters" her from middle-class existence. As a translation of orphanhood into the parallel thematics of sexual violation, Monk's Disclosures travels adjacent corridors of abandonment and rape, her prostituted voice moving confusedly between isolation and violation, a condition that follows her even in escape when she confesses, "Sometimes I think I can hear the shrieks of helpless females in the hands of atrocious men" (325).
Monk's histrionic divulgence of sexual caresses and punishments illuminates a civilian world of emotional absence and physical exploitation, supplying a fawning priest in place of the lost father, a dominating mother superior in place of the indifferent mother who fails to provide any religious instruction, thus leaving her daughter entirely without traditional Protestant theological equipment. "I had no standard of duty to refer to," explains Maria Monk of her malleability, "and no judgment of my own which I knew how to use, or thought of using" (50). Leaving her convent schooling, Maria returns home but "soon became dissatisfied, having many and severe trials to endure at home, which my feelings will not allow me to describe" (22). These unspeakable tribulations of home propel her to a novitiate, a training from which she soon "escapes" for another brief and troubled expedition through civil society that includes a marriage (and separation) and her theft of her mother's military pension, funds she uses to regain admittance to the convent. Among her many gestures of bewildered complicity once she is back in the convent is her gathering of the mother superior's hair combings, which she wears as an amulet around her neck. This gesture of abject daughterly dependence, however, is roughly thwarted when the superior "told me I was not worthy to possess things so sacred" (30).
After taking the veil, a ceremony that called for her to lie down fully draped in ceremonial garb in a coffin ("My thoughts were not the most pleasing during the time I lay in that situation" ), Maria Monk is fully informed of the convent's true life. The first night she suffers "brutal" (53) treatment from three priests; she is also forced to kneel on dried peas and, perhaps most damaging of all, to surrender her most interior thoughts in the confessional: "While at confession, I was urged to hide nothing from the priest, and have been told by them, that they already knew what was in my heart, but would not tell, because it was necessary for me to confess it" (78).
If Maria has trouble revealing her interior thoughts to the priest or, worse yet, gaining access to the emotional interior of her mother superior, she nonetheless develops a bold and precise knowledge of the convent's secret recesses, traveling the subterranean corridors, expert in her later narrative reconstruction of its architectural intricacies for her readers (Fig. 7). During one of her explorations of the convent cellar, she
finds herself on the edge of an enormous pit, "in a spacious place, so dark, that I could not at once distinguish its form" (81). Here in this pit Maria discovers the lime that has been thrown to disintegrate the bodies of murdered infants, and at its edge she ponders the familial atrocities of Rome. Outraged American readers of her narrative sought to make their way to this pit and demanded the right to investigate the Hotel Dieu convent to discover where indeed those sites of sexual intercourse and infanticide were located.
Incredibly, thousands of Americans believed Monk's narrative. Soon, however, her exposure of the infamy of convent life degenerated into an exposure of her own imposture, her mother somewhat improbably claiming that her daughter had been damaged by a slate pencil driven through her head when a child; Monk's mother further claimed that a Protestant minister had approached her to see if she would agree to the fabrication that her daughter had been seduced by a Catholic priest when in fact Maria had been impregnated by the minister himself, a story that was offered as profitable solution to an unwanted pregnancy. To her credit, Monk's mother turned down the bribe, declaring in later interviews that she had spent her maternal energies trying to curb the vagrancy and unpredictable stories of her daughter. When a New York lawyer named William L. Stone found himself in Montreal, he determined to inspect the Hotel Dieu Nunnery for himself, later producing a document entitled Maria Monk and the Nunnery of the Hotel Dieu, Being an Account of a Visit to the Convents of Montreal and Refutation of the "Awful Disclosures " (1836). Admitting that he inclined toward believing Monk's account before his tour of the convent, lawyer Stone (with the Montreal bishop's permission) inched his way through it in search of evidence of Catholic iniquity. Like his fellow Americans exploring the Roman catacombs, Stone evidently relished his role as detective assigned to pierce the veil of Catholic deception. What he discovered, however, helped him to see why Montreal's citizens, in his words, "seemed to look upon the intelligent denizens of the United States, as laboring under a widely extended monomania!" For Stone discovered nothing beyond a group of nuns who were living in apparently tranquil accord. In fact, the nuns—to Stone's still slightly baffled perspective—appeared to beat Protestant families at their own game, leading him to admit, "I have never witnessed in any community or family more unaffected cheerfulness and good humor, nor more satisfactory evidence of entire confidence, esteem and harmony among each other" (26).
Failing to find any mysteries of iniquity in the Hotel Dieu, Stone investigated the mysteries of Maria Monk. As he soon recognized, the
secrets dwelled less in Catholicism than in the strange impostures and seductions of a newly anonymous and commercialized public space. Monk's evident helplessness before her clerical exploiters and her seeming belief in her religious victimization signaled the troublesome powers of publicity available in the nascent mass-print culture. Therein lay true perplexity. Discovering what he could of Maria Monk's true history, Stone was quick to detect the pathos of the young unwed mother, not yet the "prostitute" of later legend. Unlike her collaborators, she made hardly anything from her best-seller, and Stone could see why: "Indeed she is a fitful credulous creature—a child of freak and impulse—who has probably been as much of a dupe herself, as the public have been dupes of her" (48). Catholicism had become curiously implicated in the swirling deceptions of capitalist culture, the exposure of Roman iniquities a way to profit from the public. Stone's Protestant mission now swerved from the exposure of Romanism to the "emancipation of my own countrymen from the bondage of prejudice, superinduced by the most flagrant imposture" (56). The great theme of captivity to Roman Catholicism was threatening to give way to a more troubling bondage—to the impostures of one's fellow (clerical) Americans and the impulsions of one's own need to believe.
Not suprisingly, Stone's mission of liberation failed to take effect on Monk's patrons, the Reverends Brownlee, Bourne, and Slocum and Mr. Theodore Dwight. After discussing his findings with them, Stone could only marvel at their curious submissiveness to the girlish pretender. Their continued support of Maria Monk indicated to him an unnatural regression to an infantile dependence on the mother. "How melancholy, methought, while wending my steps homeward, to see grave theologians, and intelligent laymen thus pinning themselves to the aprons of such women!" (46).
On August 15, 1837, Maria Monk fled from New York to Philadelphia; once there, she refused to be escorted back by her alleged guardian, the Reverend Slocum. Instead, she had him arrested and said "that she had fled the Hotel Dieu and Catholic Jesuits only to fall into the clutches of Protestant Jesuits, who 'all made well by my books.' " What Maria (whom a Philadelphia doctor declared incapable of caring for herself) did for the next twelve years is unknown. But as the Philadelphia Times noted on July 28, 1849: "Since the publication of her book of 'discourses,' she has plunged into every excess of female iniquity." Reportedly, she died in 1849 like a female Bartleby—silenced and impoverished on Welfare Island.