A question about Madeline

A question about Madeline

Quick question: In the “Madeline” books by Ludwig Bemelmans, is Miss Clavell a nun. Is that a habit she’s wearing? Or is it some kind of headmistress outfit worn by French boarding-school heads? And if it’s a nun, why is she “Miss” Clavell and not “Sister” Clavell?

These are the sorts of questions that pop up when you’re reading the stories for the umpteenth time.


  • Yes, it was common practice in those days for nurses, teachers, and orphanage people to wear “habits.”

    But, yes, Madame Clavel is a nun.  My wife and I were discussing this the other day, because she’s been reading _To Quell the Terror_, and was commenting on how french nuns are often called “Madame” and not “Sister” (just like Italian priests are often called “Don” instead of “Father”). 

    Also, you mention it already, but another common misunderstanding/question is that it’s a boarding school, not an orphanage.  Some of the more recent cartoons and stories not written by Bernelmans imply that Madeline is an orphan, just as they do everything they can to indicate that “Miss” Clavel” is just “Miss Clavel,” and not “SIster Clavel,” short of having her go on dates.

  • I think the originals had her as a nun, but lately, they are trying to update her.  That is why they changed her outfit and name.  I have seen dolls of Miss Clavel wearing regular clothes and not anywhere near a habit.

  • Madeline’s an orphan? I thought her father visits her when she’s hospitalized with appendicitis. I thought he was a diplomat, thus she’s in boarding school.

  • There is an order of French nuns called Daughters of the Heart of Mary who are addressed as “Miss.”
    In another French order, the Religious of the Sacred Heart, I think the nuns were addressed as “Madame.”