Juana Inés de la Cruz

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Born in Nepantla, near Mexico City, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 or 1651–1695) is best known as one of the greatest Baroque poets and as the iconic forerunner of Hispanic feminism. However, the significance of her work and life in studies of the relationships among gender, science, and society in New Spain (Mexico) and colonial Spanish America has been gaining greater recognition.

In 1662 Sor Juana, then known by her birth name, Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez, was admitted into the service of the viceroy's wife, the marquise of Mancera, who became her protector, a role later filled by the wife of the succeeding viceroy, the countess of Paredes. Believing that a religious life was most compatible with her intellectual pursuits, Sor Juana entered a Carmelite convent in 1667 but left after three months, eventually joining the more lenient order of San Jerónimo in 1669. In the convent Sor Juana pursued her scientific studies—of which little is known—and wrote the bulk of her literary works despite the opposition of her confessor and the archbishop of Mexico.

The first volume of her collected works was published in Madrid in 1689, with the publication of the second volume occurring in 1692. In 1694, under ecclesiastical pressure, Sor Juana renounced all literary activity, sold her library and scientific instruments, and signed in blood a profession of faith in which she described herself as "the worst of all." She died on April 17, 1695, during an epidemic. An unfinished poem and some money were found in her cell. The third volume of her collected works was published in 1700.

Her poetry, especially "Dream" (1692), which is less a description of a dream than an allegory of the acquisition of knowledge, has been read as a feminist interpretation of Cartesian thought and, alternatively, as the most complex instance of the confluence of hermetic science—as exemplified by the works of the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1601–1680)—and literature in the Baroque period. However, it is in her autobiographical works, such as the "Letter of Monterrey" (1681), addressed to her confessor, and the public "Response to Sor Filotea de la Cruz" (1691), a true apologia pro vita sua, that her most explicit critique of the limitations placed on the intellectual and scientific endeavors of women by the colonial patriarchal religious and political hierarchies can be found. In defense of her right to engage in intellectual activity, Sor Juana identifies in the "Response" a genealogy of women intellectuals—including such diverse examples as Hypatia of Alexandria (370–415), Saint Gertrude the Great (1256–1311), and Queen Christina of Sweden—and argues that humanistic and scientific pursuits are compatible with theology and necessary for its comprehension. Sor Juana also defended the importance of what in her time were spaces and activities for scientific knowledge, claiming that "Aristotle would have written more if he had cooked" (Sor Juana 1951–1957, p. 460).

Although Sor Juana's tragic fate demonstrates that her words were ignored by the misogynist and antirational establishment of seventeenth-century colonial Mexico, her criticisms of the ethical limitations of patriarchal science and knowledge have begun to be acknowledged as prefiguring feminist approaches to the study and history of science.


SEE ALSO Colonialism and Postcolonialism;Feminist Ethics.


Hill, Ruth Ann. (2000). Sceptres and Sciences in the Spains: Four Humanists and the New Philosophy (Ca. 1680–1740). Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press. In this study, the author analyzes the influence of the scientific philosophies developed by Francis Bacon and Pierre Gassendi, among others, on Sor Juana and three other Spanish and Spanish-American humanists (Gabriel Álvarez de Toledo, Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo, and Francis Botello de Moraes).

Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sor. (1951–1957). Obras Completas de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, ed. Alfonso Méndez Plancarte. Mexico City, Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica. This is the standard Spanish-language edition of Sor Juana's complete works.

Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sor. (1997). Poems, Protest, and a Dream: Selected Writings, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: Penguin. A good translation of some of Sor Juana's key texts.

Merrim, Stephanie, ed. (1991). Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. An important collection of articles that study Sor Juana from feminist perspectives.

Paz, Octavio. (1988). Sor Juana, or, the Traps of Faith, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Written by Mexico's best-known poet and essayist and a Nobel Prize winner himself, this book is a convincing reconstruction of Sor Juana's intellectual and social environment.

Trabulse, Elías. (1995). "El universo científico de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz." Colonial Latin American Review 4(2): 40–50. Trabulse is one of the foremost historians of science during the Mexican colonial period and this is probably the most readily available in the United States of his articles on Sor Juana.


"The Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Project." Available from http://www.dartmouth.edu/~sorjuana. On this Website one can find Sor Juana's complete works, as well as some of the most important critical articles written on her.

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Juana Ines de la Cruz

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