Study Guide

A New England Nun

by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

A New England Nun Characters

Characters

Louisa Ellis
At the beginning of the story, Louisa Ellis has been engaged for fifteen years to Joe Dagget, who has spent fourteen of those years working in Australia. He has been back for some time, and he and Louisa are to be married in a month. All this time, Louisa has been ‘‘patiently and unquestioningly waiting'' for her fiance to return. On her own since her mother and brother died, she has been living a serene and peaceful life. Her daily activities include sewing quietly, raising lettuce, making perfumes using an old still, and caring for her canary and her brother's old dog. Meticulous and tidy, she does everything with care and with the precision of old habit. She has ‘‘almost the enthusiasm of an artist over the mere order and cleanliness of her solitary home.’’

Known for her sweet, even temperament and her ‘‘gentle acquiescence,’’ Louisa has ‘‘never dreamed of the possibility of marrying anyone else'' in all the long years Joe has been away, and has always looked forward to his return and to their marriage as the ‘‘inevitable conclusion of things.’’ Just the same, she has, by the time the story opens, gotten so in the habit of living peacefully alone inside her ‘‘hedge of lace’’ that Joe's return finds her "as much surprised and taken aback as if she had never thought about'' their eventual marriage at all. When Joe stops by for one of his regular visits, she becomes uneasy when he moves some books she keeps on a table, and as soon as he leaves she carefully checks the carpet and sweeps up any dirt he has tracked in. Without really noticing the change, she has become as much a hermit as her old yellow dog, Caesar.

Caesar, chained placidly to his little hut, and Louisa's canary, dozing quietly in his cage, parallel her personality. Her life is serene but also narrow, like that of an "uncloistered nun.'' Like the canary, who flutters wildly...

(The entire section is 788 words.)