Sister acts: Nuns in Rumer Godden's Black Narcissus and at the Loreto Convents in India

Yashaswini Chandra, Alexandra Verini*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article draws into comparative conversation Rumer Godden's 1939 novel about nuns in the Himalayas, Black Narcissus, and the records of real-world nuns from the Loreto order in India. Through this comparison, we shed light on the under-studied field of nuns in India and on the intersection of gender and colonialism during the later period of colonial rule. Reading fiction against historical archives, we find that a novel that has been lauded for its anti-imperialist stance in fact retains elements of orientalism that dovetail with a misogynistic outlook. Meanwhile, an order that exhibited racist and colonialist tendencies also, despite and because of these, engineered a project with significant feminist purpose. This juxtaposition of Godden's novel and Loreto's internal archives reveals the ways in which white feminist goals can be at odds with anti-colonialist ones, but it also shows how the standard portrayal of nuns – represented by Godden's novel – as regressive and lacking agency does not hold up in the face of the historical record.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalGender & History
Early online date19 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Dec 2023


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