21 October 2014

Crisis at the convent

The motto of the
Ursuline convent schools
I want to write about my interview with my father, after he had been summoned to see the Reverend Mother in connection with her concerns about me. First I have to explain what happened.

I have always found it difficult to write about the constant disagreements throughout my education, because they were always rationalised and contradictory. But I think that the underlying forces which affected my position are clear, in retrospect, from the situation which arose when I was fourteen (after I had been prevented from taking the School Certificate exam at thirteen, and thus locked into years of delay before I could take any exams at all).

The ostensible cause of this particular crisis was that I was supposed to have said that I did not believe in God.

Actually Mother Mary Angela (the maths nun), finding it impossible to change my views on what I wanted to do in life, had brought matters to a head by peering at me and saying, ‘Do you believe in God?’ Even then I had not said that I did not, but had said, ‘Oh yes.’

I had always assumed that I would never be asked such a thing, because in the convent environment, saying that one did not believe in God would be too shocking. However, I knew that the tone of my voice was not likely to carry conviction. In fact, Mother Mary Angela reacted as if I had said the opposite.

I do not think her doing so was justified, as people (so far as I could see) often said things they did not mean very much, or meant very vaguely, this being accepted socially at face value. In most cases of people who said they believed in God, or were assumed to do so, I had little idea what they might mean by this. Retrospectively, or perhaps even at the time, I had more of an idea what Mother Veronica (the nun who habitually wore a beatific expression) might mean by professing belief in God. Mother Veronica always seemed to be maintaining a continuous awareness of some kind of presence external to her own mind.

Of course I had not said anything about such things to the other girls, although they knew that I was not actually a Catholic. I remember at least one occasion on which one of them, a grammar school scholarship girl a few years older than me, became very angry that she was unable to convert me to Catholicism on the spot.

One of the things that makes it difficult to write about the conflicts in my education, and made it difficult to understand them at the time, was that they had little or no relationship to reality, but were about fictitious states of affairs. In fact these fictitious problems were a cover for people’s real anxieties about me, which seemed to have more to do with a fear that I might do something radical, or unpredictable, on an intellectual level.

Of course, by the time this conversation with Mother Mary Angela took place, I had already been in the same form as two girls, Jane* and Sarah, who were notorious for their rejection of Catholicism, and presumably any form of Christianity. But I do not remember any expression of disbelief in God as such, and even if there had been, I would not have joined forces with it.

I thought of my own position as agnostic, on account of my awareness of the uncertainty inherent in the existential situation, and this ruled out disbelief in God (or in anything else), as well as belief.

Even if it was known that I talked a lot to Jane, I certainly did not talk about my rejection of Catholicism, whereas I think she did like to assert it frequently. It was known that I did not believe in Catholicism, since my parents always passed me off as ‘Church of England’, but I had no interest in expressing this disbelief.

With hindsight, the crisis regarding my alleged lack of belief in God seems to me to have been a cover for a crisis regarding some other aspect or aspects of my personality. The maths nun, Mother Mary Angela, was already aware that I had drives and ambitions of which she disapproved. What she and others may have been really afraid of was my analyticalness, my ability to see through society. They were afraid of my having any social success, and thus of having a chance to use these capacities to get on in life, and also to influence other people.

* Names have been changed.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.