Venus in the Cloister Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Originally published in Paris as Venus dans le cloitre: Ou, La Religieuse en chemise by a senior French clergyman, this short novel contains conversations between two nuns who believe that their religious devotion and sexual pleasure should be combined. The book says little about the nuns’ own sexual activity; its purpose was to point out that religious orders were political establishments and that they did not truly follow the teachings of Christ.

The book gained its notoriety after it was translated into English and published in London in 1724 by Edmund Curll, who was notorious for publishing obscene books. Justices of the King’s Bench had been looking for a reason to incarcerate Curll and saw his publication of Venus in the Cloister as a large enough offense. The justices had difficulty in prosecuting Curll due to a discussion by Queen Anne, a few years earlier. She had dismissed another case involving a writer charged with publishing obscenity. The King’s Bench decided to pursue the case as a civil, not religious, case declaring that Curll’s publication was an offense against the peace, that intended to weaken the bonds of civil society and morality. This action set the precedent for prosecuting future pornography cases under common law.