Mozart’s Sister, a tale of entrenched sexism and societal discrimination against women, has Catholicism as a pervasive element. Though the Reformation has occurred, the parts of Europe from which the Mozart family hails and in which they are shown traveling, have Catholicism as the state religion. The Mozarts, like most of their countrymen, are Catholic laypeople; when they crack an axle on their carriage, it occurs to paterfamilias Leopold Mozart to seek shelter for his family and staff at an Abbey they by happenstance encounter on their route.

The Mozart family enters the Abbey on the route to Paris

The Mozart family, their carriage's axle broken, enter the precincts of the Abbey to stay for a couple of days and nights.


He has an audience with the Abbess, a high-ranking female religious, who informs him that their order is strict about being single sex, and it is only “in extraordinary circumstances” that they host men in their facilities. Though the necessity of making repairs to their coach before continuing their journey to the palace at Versailles qualifies, it seems that the order has a “house adjoining the Abbey”.
The Abbess, superior of the Abbey the Mozart family encounters on their trip to Versailles.

Leopold Mozart discusses his plight with the Abbess


This constitutes a suitable, if cramped (the entire family ends up sleeping in one smallish room), facility, for overnight (and longer) stays for laypeople of both genders. The Mozart family has the added benefit of meeting the other guests at the Abbey, some of whom, according to the Abbess, are music masters. While the Mozarts have an opportunity to jam and talk music, Wolfgang’s older sister Nannerl also has an opportunity to socialize with other girls nearly her own age, as three teenage girls are effectively living at the Abbey.
the supernumary younger princesses of the French royal family meet the Mozart family.

Escorted by a stern-faced nun, the three convent-boarding younger princesses meet the Mozart family and hear them play.


Though they are living at the Abbey, and the youngest one reported that the nuns “took away her toys”, marking her 13th birthday as a milestone of maturity, they wear colorful, luxurious dresses, jewelry, and piled-high curled hair. The nickname of the youngest one, “Chiffe”, is derived from “chiffon”. The three are the fifth, sixth, and seventh sisters of the Crown Prince, known as the Dauphin, in France.
They are the younger princesses of the French royal family, effectively tacit rivals to their older siblings’ more direct succession to the throne. Though it was not unusual at the period of history, and for some time before and after, for high-born women to spend extended amounts of time effectively living in convents, to protect their presumed purity, the way the youngest, Louise, nicknamed “Chiffe”, describes their existence, they are effectively imprisoned and segregated from the royal court, yet well aware of their high rank and formally and socially barred from living and other close association with the more common strata of society. Hence the role of the convent as both protection and neutral ground, but also, effectively, prison.
Victoire, one of the older princesses, gets hold of a “book of blasphemy” describing “practices condemned by the Church”, including “matters of love, but described indecently”. Though the nuns “take it off her”, Chiffe somehow reclaims it and hides it at Victoire’s behest. Chiffe is torn between the ideals of the Church, which she has, to a certain extent internalized (when they meet again after Chiffe joins the order, she tells Nannerl that in spite of her “mischief”, her piety was real), and her word of honor and promise to Victoire. Nannerl’s visit provides an opportunity for Chiffe to get rid of the book without surrendering it to the nuns. Chiffe is determined not to let rank get between them, and rejoices that in Nannerl, she has found a friend.
The younger princesses of the French court, boarding at the convent, attend Mass and pray in the convent chapel.

The younger princesses of the French court, boarding at the convent, attend Mass and pray in the convent chapel. All women, including Nannerl and the princesses, wear lacy "chapel veils" or mantillas. The nuns wear their regular veils.


The fact that Nannerl is going to the French Court after her stay at the convent provides Chiffe an opportunity to pursue a socially unsanctioned romance, by Nannerl’s ability to deliver a letter to Hugh Le Tourner, son of one of the music masters staying at the house adjoining the Abbey. In spite of the difference in their ranks, and Chiffe’s awareness of her effective imprisonment, she is determined to pursue this with the idea that someday she will manage to escape or evade both obstacles with impunity. The two sisters with whom she shares convent life don’t call her “the commander” for nothing.
Larger forces in society prevent Chiffe from ever realizing her romance. It is some time before Nannerl and Chiffe meet again, for which purpose Nannerl must revisit the Abbey, this time in an effort by those surrounding them to try to convince Nannerl to refrain from pursuing her romantic intentions with the Dauphin. Nannerl is somewhat surprised by Chiffe’s appearance in a nun’s habit.
Chiffe enters the religious order

Nannerl visits the Abbey again to find that Chiffe has become a nun.


Though the convent is described as “Carmelite”, whose colors are brown and gold, only the Abbess is shown wearing a mustard-colored dress. The other nuns, this time including Chiffe, have been shown wearing a habit with a black veil and white dress and scapular, which emulates the habit of the Dominicans, or Order of Preachers. Her imprisonment is made more formal and obvious by the fact that she is only able to interact with her friend through a barrier of grillwork, a required form of segregation between the public and cloistered nuns, according to the Rule of this order.
Chiffe explains that her somewhat simplified version of this costume is a postulant’s habit. And, though it is presumed that there must have been considerable pressure from the nuns for the supernumary princesses to join their ranks, the final decision was ultimately Chiffe’s own. She found out that Hugh, her future lover, was actually her illegitimate brother! Like the “book of blasphemy” her older sister had earlier managed to acquire, this development was “the devil’s work”. A retreat to celibate Catholic religious life was a face-saving rationale, as far as Catholic values went. A certain fatalism and resignation went along with Chiffe’s articulation of the Church’s party line as far as obeying parents and other authorities in society; but she acknowledges that what we now know as sexism had far altered their destinies; were they born boys, Chiffe said, she would rule France; and Nannerl, her (musical) creations.

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