Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (English: Sister Joan Agnes of the Cross; born Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana; Mexico, 12 November 1651 – 17 April 1695), was a Hieronymite nun and self-taught Mexican scholar and poet. She was known in her lifetime as “The Tenth Muse” of Mexico.

She was the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and a Criolla woman, Isabel Ramírez. Her father soon abandoned the family. Juana was raised in Amecameca, where her maternal grandfather owned an hacienda.

She learnt to read when she was three years old, and had a voracious appetite for knowledge throughout her life. When she was 12 years old, her desire for learning was so intense that she begged her mother to let her dress up in men’s clothes and allow her to go and study in Mexico University, which only men were allowed to attend. Juana was a voracious reader, and used to hide in the hacienda chapel to read her grandfather’s books from the adjoining library. She composed her first poem when she was eight years old. By adolescence, she had comprehensively studied Greek logic, and was teaching Latin to young children at age 13. She also learned Nahuatl, an Aztec language spoken in Central Mexico, and wrote some short poems in that language.

In 1667, owing to her desire “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study,” Sor Juana began her life as a nun. She moved in 1669 to the Convent of San Geronimo (St. Jerome) in Mexico City, where she remained cloistered for the rest of her life. In the Convent, Sor Juana had her own study and library and was able to talk often with scholars from the Court and the University. Besides the writing of poems and plays, her studies included music, philosophy and natural science. Her small room was filled with books, scientific instruments and maps.

In 1691, controversy surrounding Sor Juana’s writing and pressure from those around her resulted in Sor Juana’s forced abjuration. During this time, Sor Juana was required to sell her books as well as all musical and scientific instruments. By 1693, Juana seemingly ceased writing. In 1695, a plague hit the convent. On April 17, after tending to her fellow sisters, Juana died from the disease. In the convent’s Libro de profesiones she had signed a statement of self-humiliation with the words ‘Yo, la peor del mundo’ (“I, the worst of all women”) .

Books in English

  • Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz: Selected Writings, tr.  Pamela Kirk Rappaport (Paulist Press, 2005, 448 p.);
  • Poems, Protest, and a Dream: Selected Writings, tr. Margaret Sayers Peden (Penguin Classics, 1997, 304 p.);
  • A Woman of Genius: The Intellectual Autobiography of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, tr. Margaret Sayers Peden (Lime Rock Press, 1982, 104 p.)
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works, tr. Edith Grossman (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014, 240 p.

Overviews

  • Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith, by Octavio Paz, tr. Margaret Sayers Peden (Belknap Press, 1990, 564 p.);
  • Sor Juana y su mundo: una mirada actual, by  Poot Herrera Sara (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1995, 555 p. , Spanish edition).

Books in Spanish

  • Neptuno alegórico (1680)
  • Autodefensa espiritual (Carta de Monterrey), (~1681)
  • Los empeños de una casa (The Trials of a Noble House) (1683)
  • Carta atenagórica (The Athenagoric Letter) (1690)
  • Segundo Volumen (Volume II of her works) which includes: El sueño, El cetro de José, El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo, and El Divino Narciso (The Divine Narcissus); Los empeños de una casa and Amor es más laberinto; Crisis sobre un sermón (Carta atenagórica) (1692)
  • La protesta que rubrica con su sangre (Profession of the Faith Signed with her Own Blood), (1694)
  • Fama y obras póstumas (Volume III of her works) which includes Respuesta a Sor Filotea (Reply to Sor Filotea) (1700)
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