In 1669, a Parisian bookseller published a slim volume called Portuguese Letters, which unveiled a love affair between a young Portuguese nun and a French officer that had occurred a few years earlier during a chaotic and war-torn period in Portgual. The book contained passionate love letters the nun had written when the officer was forced to return to France.
The letters took Paris by storm. They spoke of love in a manner so direct, so precise, and so raw, they sent shivers of recognition through the sophisticated stratums of polite society. As remarkable as the letters are, they were rivaled by the mystery that surrounds them: the author was unknown, and most people assumed they were the fictional product of a French aristocrat. The consensus was that no woman could write words of such stunning truth and beauty. Now, through meticulous research, Myriam Cyr persuasively makes the case that the nun, Mariana Alcoforado, did indeed write the letters, and her story is one of the most moving in the history of forbidden love. While this tale is infamous throughout Europe, it is fresh to American readers, and Myriam Cyr brings us the extraordinary letters; the fraught, dangerous, complex nature of this tumultuous period; and the fascinating lives of these real-life lovers in rich historical detail.
Myriam Cyr is an internationally acclaimed theater actress. She has appeared in numerous television shows and films, including I Shot Andy Warhol. She lives in Massachusetts with her family.From Publishers Weekly:
In 1669, five letters, supposedly written by a Portuguese nun, were published in Paris. They spoke of heartbreak at the desertion of a French lover after a passionate affair. The letters were a resounding success in French polite and literary society, and almost immediately sparked a controversy. Were they really the anguished cries of a scorned woman or the work of a talented male writer desperate for employment? Cyr, a stage and screen actress, claims—contra most scholars—that Mariana Alcoforado, the daughter of a rich and influential family, wrote the letters to the dashing French officer Chamilly after he returned to France. The story is fascinating, and Cyr does a good job of setting the context of 17th-century Portuguese and French life, explaining the role of convents in social and commercial realms as well as the international politics that brought Chamilly to Portugal. It's clear that Cyr did extensive research; she is not, however, a writer or a historian. Though her account is compelling and plausible, proof of Mariana's authorship, or even that she had an affair with Chamilly, remains circumstantial at best, and Cyr's argument rests on her own strong response to the sentiments in the letters. (Jan. 11)
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