Created By: Goldfritha on March 10, 2012 Last Edited By: Goldfritha on July 17, 2012
Troped

Taking The Veil

A woman becomes a nun.

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Trope
A woman enters a religious community, usually to take vows. Either as a nun or a religious sister. This is more commonly historically, or in historical works.

Reasons of drama have split this up into several types:

Retiring to a convent

A woman, often elderly, usually widowed or heartbroken, goes to a convent to take refuge from the world, or perhaps an Arranged Marriage. A rape victim may avoid the malicious gossip and hide in all-female world. After a Heel–Face Turn, this may show repentence. Some do not actually take vows, but none of them intend to return to the world.

This is usually a Ending Trope, and a Bittersweet Ending at that, because she usually is escaping tragedy to the only refuge she has. It may also be a way to dispose of minor characters without much ado.

Immured

A woman's father ruthlessly compels her to enter the convent to shut her off from her lover, because he thinks she has disgraced the family, or just to save her dowry. (The permanant form of Locked Away in a Monastery.)

Or a woman who promised I Will Wait for You foolishly gave up hope, and her lover returns to find she entered a convent. Horrors! This differs from Retiring to A Convent in that her decision was foolish even if a desperate attempt to escape an Arranged Marriage, and her being bound by her vows is treated as a dreadful thing. Unsurprisingly this particular trope was chiefly Protestant, and was a Discredited Trope by the end of the Victorian era.

Vocation

Usually found only in explicitly religious literature. A woman wants to become a nun when her family considers it her duty to submit to an Arranged Marriage. She is often -- especially when the story is far removed from Real Life -- So Beautiful, It's a Curse, because they think they can get a good match because of it. (A woman who merely wants to become a nun and does seldom appears in stories while she is doing it, because that part of her story lacks drama.)

Men can fall under any of these reason as well, although their greater ability to control their own lives and lesser need for a refuge have meant it's a predominately female trope.

These tropes can apply to either Buddhist or Christian nuns -- and were used in some Crystal Dragon Jesus pagan situations.

Examples

Film
  • In the movie Robin and Marian the middle-aged Robin Hood returns from the crusades to discover Marian has, in his absence, taken holy vows and risen through the ranks of the convent to become Mother Superior.

Literature
  • In L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, the young Emily writes an epic in which her heroine takes vows because she thought the young man she was in love with had died. She asks a priest whether there's any escape. He asks whether there was a feud between the families and is unsurprised to learn there was; he explains that since the heroine had no siblings, she could get a special dispension to leave and marry to resolve the feud. Emily is taken aback by the prospect of putting "special dispention" into verse but gamily tackles it.
  • In The Wind in the Willows, Mole recounts how the field mice children had put on a play about a sailor who returned from imprisonment had found his sweetheart had become a nun.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Return Of Don Quixote, Michael Herne, familiar with the conventions romantic novel, tracks down his beloved Rosamund, and the first thing he says is to observe that she is a nurse and not a nun. She tells him she had not given up hope of marriage.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, Mercedes retires to a convent at the end.
  • In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte has one of Jane's cousins convert to Catholicism so that she can then pack her off to a convent, where she became abbess.
  • In Madeleine L'Engle's A Severed Wasp, an important minor character had entered a convent after her child had died of cancer and she and her husband divorced.
  • In Longfellow's Evangeline, the title character became a Sister of Mercy when separated from her betrothed, finally rediscovering him only after he was striken with illness; he dies in her arms.
  • This is the main plot of the book and film The Nun's Story, starring Audrey Hepburn. I believe that one may have been based in Real Life originally.
  • At the end of The Colossus of Rhodes, Lupus's mother dedicates herself to Apollo and becomes a priestess at a temple for him. It is in keeping with a vow she made years previously for if her son lived.
  • In Japanese period works becoming a nun can be the only way for a woman to get a divorce, or indeed avoid a forced marriage: basically, run away, retire into a women's monastery, stay as Buddhist nun for a set number of years (7 if memory serves), and then you're free to go. I remember reading something where the male protagonist helped his unhappily married love interest get away from her husband this way and it was all very bittersweet, knowing they could be together 7 years into the future at the earliest.
  • Princess Ilana attempts to do this in book two of the Arcia Chronicles, after being disgraced by her association with the Big Bad Mikhai and losing her flame Rene to Gerika. However, Shander Gardani prevents this by offering to marry her.
  • In the Deryni novels, Rothana Nur Hallaj was introduced as a novice nun who had taken her initial temporary vows for vocational reasons before her convent was attacked by Mearan troops. She met Kelson Haldane in the aftermath of that attack, and decided to set aside her vows for him (and another kind of public service as his queen). Things got complicated, and she later takes a place with rediscovered Servants of Saint Camber, partly for the vocation and partly for the shame/heartbreak-induced retirement. Later still, Kelson and Araxie offer her the number two job at the new scola to provide an alternative service job outside a convent.
  • In some versions of the Arthurian myths, after the Battle of Camlann Lancelot returns from France to find that Guinevere, repenting for what she has indirectly caused, has taken vows in a nunnery. In the same vein, Lancelot then goes on to become a monk.
  • In Ivanoe, Rebecca of course does not become a nun, but she does explicitly compare her dedication to a life of good works and prayer when explaining it.
  • * Evvy in the Circle of Magic book Melting Stones ends the story promising herself that she'll become a novice in the Living Circle religion- not precisely out of a vocation to serve their gods, but because she believes in their philosophy and wants to be a better person.

Opera
  • In The Saint of Bleecker Street by Gian-Carlo Menotti, visionary Ill Girl Annina says she will take the veil one day. She ultimately does, but dies during the ceremony.

Theater
  • In Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne retires to a convent after being widowed. Cyrano visits her every day.
  • In The Sound of Music, Maria tries to retire to the convent after she realizes she is in love with the Baron.
  • In Shakespeare's ''Much Ado About Nothing: When Hero has been accused of being unfaithful, the priest's Plan B is to quietly ship her off to a nunnery where she can live out the rest of her days in anonymity.
  • In some Kabuki plays, a female character takes temporary vows (by cutting her hair) as a Buddhist nun to duck a forced marriage.
  • There's a woman in the Brother Cadfael novel "The Leper of St Giles" who has been a noble's mistress for years, and becomes a nun after his murder.

Video Games
  • One of the prisoners rescued from the slave camp in Dragon Quest V becomes a nun.
  • In the H - Game Kango Shicyauzo, this (retiring to a convent) is Sister Maria's backstory. She took her vows after being widowed and is now the head nun at St. Michael's Nursing School.

Real Life
  • St. Clare of Assisi and a friend had to elope in the middle of the night to become a nun. Her family chased after her to try to get her back, but she had already taken her vows -- and cut her long, beautiful hair, which was what really convinced them.
  • One medieval saint had hung outside her window holding on with her fingers until her family thought she had fled and then dressed as a man and ran off to get to the convent and escape the Arranged Marriage.

Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • March 10, 2012
    CrypticMirror
    In the movie Robin And Marian the middle-aged Robin Hood returns from the crusades to discover Marian has, in his absence, taken holy vows and risen through the ranks of the convent to become Mother Superior.
  • March 10, 2012
    JoeG
    • In Measure For Measure, Isabella is so determined to join a convent that she is willing to let her brother die rather than marry.
  • March 10, 2012
    KTera
    Also see Locked Away In A Monastery for when it's not done voluntarily.
  • March 10, 2012
    Goldfritha
    I don't think Measure For Measure qualifies since she drops it to marry at the end. I think her objection is to the loss of her virginity outside marriage.
  • March 10, 2012
    randomsurfer
    More Shakespeare:
  • March 10, 2012
    chicagomel
    This is the main plot of the book and film The Nun's Story, starring Audrey Hepburn. I believe that one may have been based in Real Life originally.
  • March 11, 2012
    Telcontar
    • At the end of The Colossus of Rhodes, Lupus's mother dedicates herself to Apollo and becomes a priestess at a temple for him. It is in keeping with a vow she made years previously for if her son lived.
  • March 11, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Not related to Get Thee To A Nunnery.

    I really want to make a pun off of "habit" somewhere, but nothing good is coming to mind yet....
  • March 11, 2012
    KTera
  • March 11, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Taking The Veil is in fact the Real Life term fot it.
  • March 11, 2012
    RossN
    I think the problem is that to many people 'veil' is much more associated with either Moslem women or brides than than nuns.
  • March 11, 2012
    Duncan
    More Shakespeare: In Pericles Prince Of Tyre, Thaisa becomes a nun in the temple of Diana after she believes her husband and child died at sea. She is wrong, and they are reunited 14 years later thanks to some Divine Intervention.
  • March 11, 2012
    CrypticMirror
    @ Ross N nah, taking the veil is more associated with killing Sirius Black. Wait, did Sirius become a Nun? I'll never understand Harry Potter.
  • March 11, 2012
    azul120
    • One of the prisoners rescued from the slave camp in Dragon Quest V becomes a nun.
  • March 12, 2012
    Antigone3
    I've read some Kabuki plays where a female character takes temporary vows (by cutting her hair) as a Buddhist nun to duck a forced marriage, but I don't think that would fit here.

    There's a woman in the Brother Cadfael novel "The Leper of St Giles" who has been a noble's mistress for years, and becomes a nun after his murder. (I'm blanking on her pre-veil name, sorry.) Sister Magdalen is closest to the "retirement" option, though in her case it's more of a "need a new job".
  • March 12, 2012
    Sackett
  • March 12, 2012
    Koveras
    • Princess Ilana attempts to do this in book two of the Arcia Chronicles, after being disgraced by her association with the Big Bad Mikhai and losing her flame Rene to Gerika. However, Shander Gardani prevents this by offering to marry her.
  • March 12, 2012
    peccantis
    In Japanese period works becoming a nun can be the only way for a woman to get a divorce, or indeed avoid a forced marriage: basically, run away, retire into a women's monastery, stay as Buddhist nun for a set number of years (7 if memory serves), and then you're free to go. I remember reading something where the male protagonist helped his unhappily married love interest get away from her husband this way and it was all very bittersweet, knowing they could be together 7 years into the future at the earliest.
  • March 12, 2012
    Goldfritha
    But the full form "taking the veil" is not associated with either of those.

    Wearing The Habit sounds more like being a monk/nun, not becoming one.
  • March 12, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ But for those not familiar with the term, it would seem like something else.

    Plus why limit this to nuns? Becoming a monk or a priest is often common, and for similar reasons.
  • March 12, 2012
    foxley
    The Australian mini-series Brides Of Christ was all about this (the vocation version).
  • March 13, 2012
    MorganWick
    My inclination is to split this into different tropes for the three listed reasons. Otherwise it seems like Nuns Sit On Chairs.
  • March 13, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    In the Deryni novels, Rothana Nur Hallaj was introduced as a novice nun who had taken her initial temporary vows for vocational reasons before her convent was attacked by Mearan troops. She met Kelson Haldane in the aftermath of that attack, and decided to set aside her vows for him (and another kind of public service as his queen). Things got complicated, and she later takes a place with rediscovered Servants of Saint Camber, partly for the vocation and partly for the shame/heartbreak-induced retirement. Later still, Kelson and Araxie offer her the number two job at the new scola to provide an alternative service job outside a convent.
  • March 13, 2012
    surgoshan
    I agree that this should be expanded to included monks (though not necessarily priests), perhaps Joining A Holy Order or something.
  • March 13, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    I'm with Dragon Quest Z: there are plenty of cases where a male character enters a monastery. Suggest making this a unisex trope ... maybe call it "Taking Holy Orders."
  • March 13, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    ^x4 I agree.

    Video Games:
    • In the H - Game Kango Shicyauzo, this (retiring to a convent) is Sister Maria's backstory. She took her vows after being widowed and is now the head nun at St. Michael's Nursing School.
  • March 14, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma does seem to be an exception that proves the rule here, but I'll add her FWIW. She's a 7th century Celtic Church nun and a dalaigh (lawyer) of the Irish brehon courts who meets and marries the Saxon Brother Eadulf, another religieux. Her vows seem to have been taken in furtherance of her legal career, and she expresses a desire to abandon them late in the series, especially as pressure from Rome (to enforce clerical celibacy and the Penitentials) increases.
  • March 18, 2012
    Goldfritha
    It's not limited to nuns. It explicitly says it can include men. But overwhelmingly it's a female trope.
  • March 18, 2012
    shimaspawn
    I like naming it Taking Holy Vows and making it a bit broader. Does it really need to be nuns? or can we count examples like:

    • Leliana from Dragon Age Origins who becomes a member of the Chantry after she receives a vision from the maker.

    If we expand it to any holy order then it gets a lot more male examples. Nuns are going to be primarily female of course, but characters in fiction that join holy orders are common in both genders.
  • March 19, 2012
    Irrisia
    In some versions of the Arthurian myths, after the Battle of Camlann Lancelot returns from France to find that Guinevere, repenting for what she has indirectly caused, has taken vows in a nunnery. In the same vein, Lancelot then goes on to become a monk.
  • March 21, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Do people enter any kind of holy order for the same motives?
  • March 21, 2012
    aurora369
  • March 22, 2012
    X2X
    Video Games
    • Felicia of Darkstalkers decides to give up on her dream of becoming a musical superstar to follow in the footsteps of her foster mother Rose and takes up the life a nun in the her ending from the third game, running an orphanage known as the Felicity House.

    Also, thirding Getting In The Habit.
  • March 22, 2012
    Starfire
    Taking the Habit? it gets a pit of punny in there off "breaking the habit" and it's closer to the standard pharse of "Taking the Veil"
  • March 22, 2012
    shimaspawn
    @ Goldfritha: Short answer, in fiction yes. Long answer, there's five main reasons people join a religious order in fiction, the three you have listed, guilt for previous actions, and being taken in raised or helped by said religious order. Also, the Vocation bit even in nonreligious lit tends to come from being visited by a deity or being saved by the order.
  • March 31, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Then we need more examples.
  • April 1, 2012
    Prfnoff
    In the opera The Saint of Bleecker Street by Gian-Carlo Menotti, visionary Ill Girl Annina says she will take the veil one day. She ultimately does, but dies during the ceremony.
  • April 2, 2012
    shimaspawn
    ^^ You aren't going to get more as long as your write up stays sounding Always Female. People assume that they don't count when you do that and thus don't add them.
  • April 2, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    @ shimaspawn and Goldfritha I think a subset of the vocational type is reflected in the Sister Fidelma example I mentioned earlier: acquiring education/literacy/career. This is particularly true for works set after the Fall of Rome (the "Dark Ages" and medieval period into early modern), when western Christian churches became guardians/repositories/purveyors of learning and books.

    FWIW adding this point might help broaden this from the Always Female sound. Clergy provided some governments with political leaders and functionaries, up to Thomas Cardinal Wolsey under Henry VIII until 1530.
  • April 2, 2012
    Goldfritha
    That would be a supertrope. This sounds Always Female because it is. And people are reading enough to claim that it ought not to be. If they have no examples, why are they claiming it should not be?
  • April 2, 2012
    shimaspawn
    There's no reason for this to be Always Female. There's no difference at all between men and women with the trope. This is a weird and arbitrary split that will just cause trope decay quickly.
  • April 22, 2012
    Sheliak
    Another vote for making this one unisex under "Taking Holy Vows" or a similar name. The action of joining a holy order is the same for men or women, and the motives listed can apply to either gender (although the "avoiding an arranged marriage" variant is usually female).

    Examples:

    Female:
    • Evvy in the Circle Of Magic book Melting Stones ends the story promising herself that she'll become a novice in the Living Circle religion- not precisely out of a vocation to serve their gods, but because she believes in their philosophy and wants to be a better person.
    Male:
    • A number of men become monks in the Brother Cadfael books (quite reasonable, as they are set at a monastery during the Middle Ages). Religious vocation is usually at least part of it. One young man in particular took vows because he felt that his recovery from what had been a crippling illness was miraculous, and wanted to devote his life to God in thanks.
  • April 24, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Actually, I think that young man is the only example. There are a number of men who are monks but their taking vows is not a significant factor in the action.
  • April 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In one episode of The Commish there was an old case involving a murder where an innocent man had been found guilty. It turns out that one of the perps is now a priest: he felt so bad about it all that he turned to the cloth in order to help people, to atone for his youthful mistake.
    • In the backstory to Soap Father Timothy Flotsky was pushed into becoming a priest by his mother. When he leaves the priesthood and marries Corinne his mother puts a curse on them.
  • July 17, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Bump for hats.
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