Jessie: On the coast of Maine, enjoying all the delights of summer!
Two years ago I was fortunate enough to be seated near Anna Lee at a dinner at Malice Domestic. Her smile was sparkling and her laugh infectious. Her books are atmospheric and engrossing. I am pleased as punch to welcome her on the Wickeds today!
Life in an Abbey School
My latest book in the Lady Darby series, AS DEATH DRAWS NEAR, is set at Rathfarnham Abbey in 1831 Ireland, where a woman of the cloth is found murdered. But it turns out this isn’t just any convent, it’s also an abbey school—complete with adolescent angst and hormones. Having grown up going to public school, I decided I’d better research what it was like to attend an all-girl Catholic boarding school. I mean, we’ve all heard the stories, and seen the movies and the Britney Spears video, but what was it really like?
Though, I couldn’t find any firsthand accounts written by girls who attended the school in those early years in the nineteenth century, I did find a trove of information in the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Irish Province of the Loreto Sisters Archives about the founding and day to day running of the school, and some of the challenges the sisters as teachers faced. I was also fortunate enough to find a memoir written by two sisters who attended the abbey school in the 1960s, and it was filled with enlightening and hilarious anecdotes.
For example, the students dubbed each of the nuns with a nickname, though they would never have dared call them by it to their faces. So Sister Mary Maxentia became Sister Maxie. Sister M. Philippa was called Sister Pip. Mother M. Fidelis was Mother Fido. And perhaps most humorous, Mother M. Attracta became Mother Tractor.
There was default rule of silence throughout the abbey, strictly observed, and random movement was tightly controlled. All I can say is that nuns must have been geniuses. No shrieking, blabbering adolescent girls running through the halls. Win!
After lights out in the dormitories, the girls were to remain in their beds. However, at least one girl accepted a dare and darted across the room into a friend’s bed. The sister in charge of their dormitory heard the girls from inside her curtained off area, and spoke a warning. Consequently, the girl was too frightened to attempt to return to her bed until almost morning, when being caught in her friends’ bed would have been much worse.
The food left much to be desired. It was edible and nutritious, but nothing to get excited about. The roly-poly, or boiled baby, was particularly execrable, though the biscuits were a high point. Once a month, all the girls would line up to receive a tablespoon of syrup of figs for constipation. Yum.
The girls would hide the fact that they were reading novels by putting them inside the covers of holy texts. Sort of like when I used to hide them behind my algebra textbook, seemingly absorbed in equations rather than Mr. Darcy.
Some of the girls lived in terror that they would get the “calling,” as the sisters referred to their decision to take their vows. (Sounds like a Fox TV show, doesn’t it? The Calling.) Yet this never seems to have happened except to girls who had already expressed an affinity for it.
Boyfriends would write to them as brothers in order to get their letters past the nuns’ censorship. Some were even brazen enough to try to visit them the same way, though they rarely made it past the strict nun on “sentry duty.” One girl whose boyfriend forgot to hide his identity had the letter he sent her read aloud in refectory during their dinner as an example of perdition.
Readers, what about you? Did you attend a public or private, day or boarding school? What interesting or humorous tales do you have to tell?
AS DEATH DRAWS NEAR, Book 5 in the Lady Darby Mystery Series – Releasing July 5th
July 1831.In the midst of their idyllic honeymoon in England’s Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s seclusion is soon interrupted by a missive from her new father-in-law. A deadly incident involving a distant relative of the Duke of Wellington has taken place at an abbey south of Dublin, Ireland, and he insists that Kiera and Gage look into the matter.
Intent on discovering what kind of monster could murder a woman of the cloth, the couple travel to Rathfarnham Abbey school. Soon a second nun is slain in broad daylight near a classroom full of young girls. With the sinful killer growing bolder, the mother superior would like to send the students home, but the growing civil unrest in Ireland would make the journey treacherous.
Before long, Kiera starts to suspect that some of the girls may be hiding a sinister secret. With the killer poised to strike yet again, Kiera and Gage must make haste and unmask the fiend, before their matrimonial bliss comes to an untimely end…
Anna Lee Huber is the RITA and Daphne awards-nominated author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, including A Study in Death, A Grave Matter, Mortal Arts, and The Anatomist’s Wife. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on the next Lady Darby novel. A special Lady Darby novella titled A Pressing Engagement will release on May 17th, 2016, and Book 5, As Death Draws Near, will release on July 5th, 2016.
Visit her online at www.annaleehuber.com.