In the course of browsing an illustrated book of objects—umbrellas, watches, tools, clothes—artist Max Ernst was struck by the items’ unusual juxtapositions. By manipulating the Victorian-era engravings into striking tableaux and adding brief captions, Ernst invented the collage novel and transformed banal advertising art into revealing dramas rooted in his dreams and secret desires.
A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil was originally published in 1930 as Rêve d’une petite fille qui voulut entrer au Carmel. Its hallucinatory visions center on the nightmares of a girl who loses her virginity on the day of her first communion and resolves to become a nun. Ernst, a pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealistic art, blends humor and irony in his exploration of the nonrational but very real intersection of religious ecstasy and erotic desire. A century after its debut, this profoundly peculiar book retains its shock value as well as its imaginative power.