Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism and Liberal Democracy in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

By Elizabeth Fenton | Go to book overview

3
Papal Persuasions: Religious
Conversion and Deliberative
Democracy

Looking back on her decision to enter a Catholic convent, the narrator of Josephine Bunkley’s The Escaped Nun: or, Disclosures of Convent Life; and the Confessions of a Sister of Charity (1855) explains how an Italian tutor so easily managed to undermine her Protestant convictions. “His gentlemanly address,” she tells readers of Signor Leguini,

his winning manners, and his fluent, but still slightly broken accentuation of our
language, combined to lend a charm to his conversation … which conspired
to work upon my feelings to such a degree as to cause the most serious
reflections respecting … his advancement of such peculiar [Catholic]
doctrines.1

Here Bunkley suggests that it is not the content of Leguini’s speech that convinces her narrator to join the Church so much as his rhetorical prowess. Catholic dogma may be “peculiar,” but cloaked in charming conversation it becomes impossible to resist. The narrator compares herself to a “fluttering and terrified, but irresistibly attracted bird [that] flies, in gradually lessening circles, around the venomous snake” of Romanism (19). Leguini never threatens the narrator or forces her to do anything. Rather, after enjoying his company and that of his friends, she simply

-57-

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