Nanda felt a wave of piety overwhelm her as she knelt very upright in her bench, her lisle-gloved hands clasped on the ledge in front of her. “Oh dear Lord,” she said fervently in her mind, “thank you for letting me come here. I will try to like it if You will help me. Help me to be good and make me a proper Catholic like the others.”
Nanda settles in to life at the boarding school. The nuns are a constant presence of routine, discipline and instruction and Nanda starts to find reassurance in this. However, Nanda cannot quite suppress her imaginative and passionate self. She gets caught reading literature that the nuns do not allow and she makes close friendships with a small group of girls. This the nuns do not encourage as it is a self-indulgence to have close friends. Self-sacrifice is a recurring theme and is something that, like any young girl, Nanda cannot always achieve.
The self-assurance of the nuns that they are truly conducting God’s work is startling and, for me, a memory. They deny the enquiring mind and censor all correspondence between pupils and the outside world; between parent and child. The nuns are not bad women, they are genuinely trying to save the souls of their pupils and to raise good Catholic women. But for Nanda, the saving of her soul by Mother Radcliffe leads to a personal tragedy that the reader knows will have repercussions for years to come.
‘”I am only acting as God’s instrument in this. I had to break your will before your whole nature was deformed.” Nanda glanced at the nun’s face. It was pale and controlled as usual, yet lighted with an extraordinary, quiet exaltation.’