Letters of a Portuguese Nun: 17th Century Forbidden Love

TUE, FEB 21, 2006 (51:29)

Myriam Cyr makes the case that the nun, Mariana Alcoforado, is indeed the author of one of the great literary masterpieces of the 17th century, Portuguese Letters. Mariana’s story is one of the most moving in the history of forbidden love. In 1669, a Parisian bookseller published a slim volume called Portuguese Letters, which unveiled a love affair between a young Portuguese nun and a French officer that had occurred a few years earlier during a chaotic and war torn period in Portugal. The book contained passionate love letters the nun had written when the officer was forced to return to France. The letters took Paris by storm. They spoke of love in a manner so direct, so precise, and so raw that they sent shivers of recognition through the sophisticated strata of polite society. Through the centuries they have captured the hearts of poets and painters alike and retain all of their beauty and power today. Stendhal said “one has not loved until they have loved like the Portuguese nun.” Braque and Matisse tried to imagine her. As remarkable as the letters are, they are rivaled by the mystery that surrounds them. Scholars debate whether a Portuguese nun could have written words of such stunning truth and beauty preferring to believe that a French aristocrat wrote the letters in answer to a dare.

+ BIO: Myriam Cyr

Myriam Cyr is a mother, a television and radioannouncer, as well as a programming director.

Boston Athenaeum
French Culture Series
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