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 They were eaten up heart and soul with their love for Christ. This was true love, the like of which he had never found in any novel, translated or otherwise. Never before had he encountered such passion and devotion. Was this what they called sacrifice? The dwarf checked himself. Of course. They had sacrificed the world and their families for the sake of this love, or for the sake of competing for this love.

– Ḥannan al-Shaykh, the Keeper of the Virgins

In The Keeper of Virgins, Hanan Al-Shaykh contrasts two very different types of devotion as she follows the journey of the main character from being what seems like a spurned lover to a devoted aid in a convent. At the beginning of the story, we see the man resolutely walking 4 hours every day in order to wait in front of the convent for the chance to speak to Georgette. His demeanor during this section of the story is very determined if not somewhat aggressive. He becomes suspicious of the workers and feels betrayed when he discovers the gates open at night when he is not there to see or enter them. His fixation with Georgette and, eventually the exclusivity of the convent itself feels obsessive and almost selfish as his intent doesn’t seem to be to show or give love but to selfishly take.


The dwarf’s devotion transforms towards the end of the story when he becomes a devoted aid to the nuns. As he observes their selfless allegiance to their religion it seems that he is transformed within himself. He no longer seems to be fixated on Georgette but to the nuns as a whole. It is in the convent that he seems to really discover the “true love,” he had been desperately seeking. He commits himself to help them in every way without expecting anything in return. In a way, his devotion becomes pure when he witnesses the selflessly unwavering intensity of theirs.

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