This novella is a work of Victorian erotica. Given the Victorian era’s legendary hyper-moralism and widespread desire to downplay of sexuality, one might be forgiven for thinking of the term “Victorian erotica” in the same vein as “Medieval Electronics.” However, the psychology of interest revolves around the question of whether repression produces obsession, resulting in sex becoming more entangled with guilt and punishment than it is with love and romance. The Convent School tells the sexually-charged story of a girl / young woman / woman who receives a lot of spankings before, during, and after her time at the titular convent school — in the latter case, as an unfaithful married woman.
That brings us to mention the first of two [overlapping] groups of readers who are unlikely to find any appeal in this book, and who would be advised to steer clear of it. First of all, anyone with delicate sensibilities regarding sexual activities will likely find this work over the line. If you are expecting something like Bram Stoker’s Dracula that is sensual but in only a vaguely sexual sort of way, you’ll be in for a rude shock. This story is presented with a pornographic level of graphic detail. It holds nothing back and leaves little to the imagination. I should point out that the story gets more graphic as it progresses. So, for example, before the girl is sent to convent school, the main sexual activity goes on behind closed doors between the girl’s matron-like tutor and the girl’s father (or so the reader is led to believe,) with the girl’s solitary self-exploration forming the most graphic portion. However, by the time she is a married woman being punished for the transgression of infidelity the story reaches a brutal level of graphic detail.
The second group are those who are piously religious. In written tradition that predates the Victorian era, and which includes works like Boccaccio’s The Decameron and any work by the Marquis de Sade, the clergy are presented as libidinous and hypocritical. [At least, that’s how the clergy who feature in the story are portrayed. While it could be argued that they are exceptions to the rule, it might also be claimed that these authors are saying something about how the inability to engage in romantic sexuality will – rather than resulting in the desired asexuality – result in a perverse weaponization of sexual activity.]
As for who would read this book, beyond the obvious — those for whom sado-masochism and bondage / domination has great interest or appeal, the readership is a niche group with interests in history and / or psychology as it [they] overlap[s] literature. It’s fair to say that this is a work that might have been totally forgotten had it not been for the fact that Alan Moore revived the pseudonym and fictitious biography of the author of The Convent School for use in his graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a work that imagines a collection of Victorian era fictional characters (Allan Quatermain, Mina [Harker] Murray, Dr. Jekyll, and Captain Nemo) brought together as a team of heroes. Having said that it might have been completely forgotten from the annals of erotic literature, it is available on Project Gutenberg.
Normally, here I’d give a recommendation or anti-recommendation, but this whole review serves that function, so consider yourself forewarned / informed.