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The First Feminist of America - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Life and Poetry of Sor Juana

Leslie Davis

on 9 November 2013

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Transcript of The First Feminist of America - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Early Life
Born in 1651 ( year is disputed) in San Miguel Nesplantla to an unwed Creole Mother and Spanish Father, Juana grew up in Amecameca, living with her mother on her maternal grandfather’s estate.
Juana composed her first poem at age 8. She was a extremely bright child and studied both Greek and Latin, Along with her native Spanish, Juana spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec language and even wrote poems in the language as well.

Studies in the Viceroy Court
Not able to attend university and forced to live in a male dominated society, Juana was admitted into the service of a Viceroy’s wife, and studied privately.
In 1664, Juana is taken to the Viceregal Court where she is declared a prodigy by the Viceroy, the Marquis de Mancera, and his wife, Vicereine Leonor Carreto. The Vicereine takes Sor Juana as a lady-in-waiting of the Viceregal Court
The Convent
At age 21/22, Juana becomes Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz when she joined the Convent of St. Paola in 1669. There is meager documentation of her years of courtly life. It may have been to evade the growing expectations that she, as a desirable, popular young woman, should be married; but married life was a condition she desperately wished to avoid.
She writes:
"I entered the religious order knowing that life there entailed certain conditions (I refer to superficial and not fundamental regards) most repugnant to my nature; but given the antipathy I felt for marriage, I deemed convent life the least unsuitable and the most honorable I could elect if I were to insure my salvation.". (Pedén 15)
The Outspoken Nun
Scholars estimate that Sor Juana amasses an impressive collection, during her Convent years: a library of over 4,000 volumes, collects musical and scientific instruments. She receives guests at intellectual gatherings.

She publishes her own poems and music, but begins to receieve criticisim from her political and religious superiors.
Attempts to squelch Sor Juana's published works, lead to the Archbiship's forcing Juana to give up her writing completely. Juana has to sell her enormous library, and scientific and musical collection - and devotes the rest of her life to penance in the convent.

Her Last Days
Severe floods, famine, and an epidemic, perhaps the plague, arrive to Mexico City. The disease arrives to the Convent of San Jerónimo and Sor Juana falls ill while taking care of her sisters. She dies in April, 1695. Her work is published posthumously across the Spanish-speaking world, an unusual event for a woman from New Spain in this time period.
Literary Works of the
"First Feminist in America"
La poesia de occasion , occasional poetry, is a literary style found in Sor Juana’s writing. She lived during the colonial period, when she and many Spanish-American poets wrote verse works to commemorate events such as birthdays, deaths, military victories, religious feasts and other special occasions.
This practice of composing poetry is not as popular today as it was centuries before, but it does continue to celebrate important occasions.

Later in her life, Sor Juana’s poetry becomes a style of poem, called "la poesie engagée". This is a type of politically engaged poetry. Sor Juana's poems turn into a platform for her to express political views and opinions - which she does to a great extent.

One of Juana’s more famous writings was the Respuesta a Sor Filotea – which has been regaled as the “first feminist manifesto” of its time, and defends a woman’s right to education.
La Poesía de ocasíon y La poesie engagée
La Respuesta
The "Respuesta a la Ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz" (Reply to the Illustrious Sor Philotea de la Cruz), is finished in 1691. as a response to a critique of the Bishop of Puebla included along with her “Carta Atenagórica” (or “Letter Worthy of Athena”) (1690). In the “Respuesta” Sor Juana defends her right to devote to secular and artistic endeavors, such as the production of love poems and dramatic pieces, as well as her right to study and develop intellectual pursuits as a woman in New Spain during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Protesta Que Rubrica con Su Sangre
Profession of the Faith Signed with Her Own Blood -
worn down by her religious critics, Sor Juana submitted to the Church, signing, in her own blood, a statement affirming her faith and her defense of the mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception. She turned over all of her belongings, including her vast classical library and all musical and scientific instruments, to the Archbishop to be disposed of for charity, and withdrew into silence
Sor Juana In´es de La Cruz - Famous Works
To read more of Sor Juana's poetry in English, please
click on http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/1032
Sor Juana's poems today are used as historical documents, to study women’s history, and the subject being and Hispanic Woman of colonial times. Her collection of poems are the only documentation to the poetical history of her life. For a woman to be a writer at that historical time, it was necessary for a woman to have a legitimate reason to write….much less have the ability to publish their writing.
It is for this reason that Sor Juana has become a prominent figure in Spanish American History and Women’s history today.

The First Feminist in America

Ed. William H. McNeill, Jerry H. Bentley, and David Christian. Vol. 3. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing, 2005. p1147-1155. COPYRIGHT 2005 Berkshire Publishing Group Claudia M. Huiza
The Politics and Poetics of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz by George Anthony Thomas , U of Nevada, Reno.
The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. Ed. Kim Bredgeford. The Mezzon Cammin Womens Poets, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2013
Thomas, George A. The Politics and Poetics of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2012. 50 -81. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.
click picture to enlarge and read "Foolish Men" by Sor Juana
A text of La Ruespuesta
Check out an English version and outline of Sor Juana's La Ruespesta!
Full transcript