The Devil’s in the Details

The story of Maria Monk is fascinating.  A scandalous tale of illicit sex and torture, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, more than anything else, reveals the genuine fear Americans had concerning Roman Catholicism and Catholic immigrants.  If such debauchery and unbridled degradation happens just north of us, what’s to keep immigrants coming into our country from conducting themselves in the same manner?  Of course, many of these fears were simply unfounded but, human psychology being what it is, the true nature of things hardly matters when fear and paranoia dominates the mind.  Why else would this piece have been so very popular and remained widely disseminated, read, re-read, and enjoyed even after it was soundly proved to be a fallacious and salacious work of pure fiction.  Not only did her description- her is here perhaps strong given this piece was written by a male minister- of the convent prove false but her description of the various local order of nuns and their peculiar habitues was wrong.  But the damage was done.  People wanted to believe Catholics were as bad as devils and corruptors of goodliness and godliness.  This is so masterfully written into the text that, on occasion, as I was reading I forgot that the story was false.  The accounts were so dreadful that I fell into believing they must be true.  Her use of her femininity, playing herself off as frail and fragile, in saying such a thing as her modesty wouldn’t permit her from detailing all the particular sexual and brutal occurrences works wonders for the imagination.  She allows for the readers imagination to run free and concoct and contort some awful and shameful story to fill in the strongly suggestive gaps in her account.  This device must have been powerful in her day as people reacted so strongly to it but the effect is not lost on a modern audience either.  In short, I believe The Awful Discourses of Maria Monk to be an excellently well crafted piece of anti-Catholic propaganda which Maria Monk- or that pesky minister- utilized to play on the prevailing fears and assumptions of Americans during the early and mid- 19th century.

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