When "A New England Nun" was first published in A New England Nun and Other Stories (1891), Mary Wilkins Freeman was already an established author of short stories and children's literature. Her first book of short stories, A Humble Romance and Other Stories (1887), had received considerable critical and popular attention, and she published stories in such notable journals as Harper's Bazaar, Harper's Monthly, and the New York Sunday Budget.
Mary Wilkins Freeman is often classified as a "local color writer.’’ This means that she attempted to capture the distinct characteristics of regional America. Other well-known local colorists were Sarah Orne Jewett (with whom Freeman was often compared) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin). As in the work of other local color writers, a recognizable regional setting plays an important part in most of Freeman's stories. However, she differed from writers such as Jewett and Stowe in that she rarely engaged in the meticulous description of places and people that they favored. The details in her stories tend to have symbolic significance, and most critics agree that her themes are more universal than those commonly found in much local color writing of the time. She is admired for her simple, direct prose and her insight into the psychology of her characters. "A New England Nun" has a very simple, perhaps even contrived plot. Yet Freeman manages to depict skillfully the personalities involved in this small drama and the time in which they lived.