Based on one of the greatest true stories of seduction and abandonment, Mariana is the saga of the nun who wrote the Love Letters acclaimed as some of the most passionate documents in existence. They were bestsellers in her own time and have continued to touch hearts everywhere, with over 250 editions sold out in languages all over the world. She has inspired artists such as Matisse, Modigliani, and Braque, and such writers as Stendahl, who said of her, “It is necessary to love like the Portuguese nun, with that ardent soul whose fiery mark is left for us in her letters.”
In seventeenth-century Portugal, Sister Mariana Alcoforado shocked the world by having a fervent affair with a French officer, Captain Noel Bouton, part of the army that had come to aid Portugal’s struggle for independence from Spain.
For the first time in English, the entire story of her life in the convent is told in detail.
Mariana, selected by the U.S. Library of Congress as one of the Top Thirty International Books of 1998, has been published in two editions in English (HarperCollins/Flamingo in England and Aliform Press in Minneapolis), Spanish, German (including a paperback edition), Greek, Italian (where it was one of Rizzoli’s top three books of the year), and Portuguese, which was a bestseller in several editions, including a mass-market pocket book. The Portuguese edition is available in the U.S. via the Luso-Americano bookstore in Newark, New Jersey.
Praise for Mariana:
“Mariana’s letters, translated here by Vaz, are simple, strong arguments for the purity of love, and they seem to penetrate the human heart with startling directness . . . Mariana’s evocation of life in seventeenth-century Portugal glows with colour . . . and is most successful in its lyrical descriptions of ordinary lives transfigured, in its detailing of everyday routines and beliefs, and in its account of spiritual and emotional struggles.”—Times Literary Supplement
“Vaz has succeeded in the daunting task of blending an exquisitely beautiful love story with an insightful exploration of the sort of mysticism that springs from the combination of carnal experience and the forced absence of it within the walls of a cloister. To these elements is added a poetic and heartrending portrait of a woman. Seldom does one read pages of such intense beauty and intelligence about the female heart like those written by Vaz.”
—Simonetta Bartolini, Il Giornale
“As well as being a saga and a love story, Mariana is also . . . a crossweave of Portuguese folklore, country tradition and religious ritual . . . (and) presents a texture of Alentejan rural life in the seventeenth century, of interest to any modern reader for whom the pleasures of visiting Portugal involve a degree of travel and a deepening of awareness about the diversity of the land and its people . . .Vaz’s commitment to construct her novel from the roots upwards pays off well in the metaphorical and mythic frame of reference this enables her to develop. . . . the novel amply testifies to the delight of Mariana’s story, the wealth of documentation on her life and times, and the pleasure still to be derived from reading about the scandal of forbidden love.”
— Hilary Owen, Cultura
“Mariana de Alcoforado, a Portuguese nun of the seventeenth century, has an affair in the convent with a French captain, which leads to a passionate correspondence. Katherine Vaz has written, with intensity and erudition, about this “forbidden love” of the nun, which has long fascinated such brilliant minds as Stendahl, Rilke, and Braque.”
—La Vanguardia Magazine
“Mariana Alcoforado was eleven years old when she was submitted to the will of her father and was required to enter a convent, but this did not impede her dreams of liberty. This dream became a reality when, in her twenties, she exchanged glances with a captain of the French army who’d come to the city, leaving her mad with passion. The true pleasure arrived at the moment she gave herself to him body and soul. But the scandal of society during that time soon brought an end to the affair. Without admitting defeat, Sister Mariana wrote him passionate letters, without response. Although this novel is not set in recent history, it continues to enchant us, using a straightforward but detailed plot, and through dialogue and descriptions that transport us to the turbulent Portugal of the seventeenth century.”
“Mariana exists in the novel of Katherine Vaz, but this American writer also knows how to elevate the love in the nun’s letters past narcissism and definitely place such passion in the realm described by Rilke about the search for love: ‘To be loved is passing; to love is to last forever.'”
“The story of Mariana and the captain would have been a tale of betrayal like so many others were it not for the magnificent passion that explodes from the lines (of the nun’s letters), transforming the affair into a unique story of growth and acceptance of one’s own destiny, to the point of winning freedom from the beloved. . . . the pages of the novel (are) impassioned and impetuous like its protagonist.”—Amica Magazine
“In an evocative prose densely filled with colors, the author magically illuminates every detail, episode, and feeling of the soul, bringing back to life the voice and spirit of Mariana Alcoforado. It is a tale of seduction and abandonment. Yet it is also the story of the heart’s requital . . . with the passing of time, the mysterious force that the nun derives from the cruel memory of her abandonment is transformed. She creates a pure, absolute, spiritual yearning that enriches and accompanies her along the anguishing path toward redemption. Vaz’s key consists in knowing how to apply with keen intelligence the symbolic potential contained in the erotic relationship to all the events of a life.”