Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489
Suzanne is sent to a convent because her sister's suitor shows more interest in her than in her sister. She says, "I foresaw all the trouble which his preference might bring on me, and I warned my mother." Her mother responds by sending her to a convent called Saint Mary's; her sister marries the suitor.
Convent life does not suit her even before it is overtly abusive. She writes, "For it is certain, my lord, that out of a hundred nuns who die before fifty there are exactly a hundred who are damned, not counting those who go mad, brutish, or raving in the process." Throughout her experiences at various convents, she sees nuns acting cruel, crazy, and ill at different times. She herself almost dies.
Her mother refuses to fix their relationship because Suzanne is a reminder of her affair and how she betrayed her husband. Suzanne's mother says, "You recall to me such treachery, such odious ingratitude on the part of another that I cannot bear the thought of it. This man always comes between yourself and me. The thought of him revolts me, and the hate I owe him flowers over on to you." She refuses to help or restore any part of the family funds to Suzanne.
Instead, Suzanne's mother encourages Suzanne to join a convent and live out her life in that way so that at least she is financially supported. She says, "Child, you have nothing and will never have anything; the little I can give you is so much smuggled from your sisters. Such are the consequences of folly." As a result, Suzanne becomes a nun and enters a series of convents where she is taken advantage of and almost dies.
At one of the convents, the Superior is a lesbian who takes advantage of Suzanne's innocence. She asks her at one point whether she is behaving properly; her questions are the precursor to her later actions when she gets in bed with Suzanne and caresses her. She says, "You have never thought of running your hands over your lovely breast, over your body, your flesh, which is so firm, so soft, and so white." Suzanne says that she has not and that it is a sin. Even when the Superior later joins her in bed, she does not understand the woman's intentions.
When she finally escapes her last convent, she says that "the skin has been torn off my legs by my fall when leaving the convent." She goes "into service with a washerwoman," which is where she is when she starts writing the letters that comprise the book. She says that it is a better life than the one at the convent, even if it is difficult. Suzanne waits to hear from the Marquis, and though the Marquis does offer a better position, by the time his letter arrives she is too ill to accept the position, and she dies.