In the prevailing anti-Catholic atmosphere of early-nineteenth-century America, and fresh after the Ursuline Convent riots of August 1834 in Massachusetts (in which a convent of the Roman Catholic Ursuline nuns burned down by the hands of a Protestant mob), the publication of Maria Monk's revelations of her time at the Hôtel-Dieu convent in Montreal became a sensation. With nuns forced to engage in sexual acts with priests and being locked in the cellar as a punishment for disobeying, the story had similarities to the popular Gothic novels of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Maria also tells of how any babies that were born as a result of these liaisons were immediately baptized, strangled, and buried under the convent. It was from this fate that she wanted to save her unborn child which led her to escape and consequently publish her exposé.
Although the preface claims the events and persons described to be real, after the initial sensation died down some began to question the veracity of Maria's tale. American journalist William L. Stone traveled to Montreal and visited the convent, later writing that the descriptions found in Maria's book bore no resemblance to the actual building. Tales of Maria's past seem to suggest that she had been confined by her mother in a house for fallen women from which she was expelled in 1835 due to her pregnancy. In October of the same year, a New York newspaper announced Maria's forthcoming book which was then published in January 1836. It is believed that the book was not written by Maria herself but either written down or indeed fabricated by one or more of the various clergymen that surrounded her during this time of publicity, such as Reverend William K. Hoyt and Reverend John Jay Slocum, in an attempt to make money through the sensational narrative. When or how she had come to meet these men and how much influence they had over her is unknown, as is the truth of the narrative found in her book or indeed anywhere else regarding Maria's life or character.