Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith

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Overview

Mexico's leading poet, essayist, and cultural critic writes of a Mexican poet of another time and another world, the world of seventeenth-century New Spain. His subject is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the most striking figure in all of Spanish-American colonial literature and one of the great poets of her age.

Her life reads like a novel. A spirited and precocious girl, one of six illegitimate children, is sent to live with relatives in the capital city. She becomes known for her beauty, wit, and amazing erudition, and is taken into the court as the Vicereine's protégée. For five years she enjoys the pleasures of life at court--then abruptly, at twenty, enters a convent for life. Yet, no recluse, she transforms the convent locutory into a literary and intellectual salon; she amasses an impressive library and collects scientific instruments, reads insatiably, composes poems, and corresponds with literati in Spain. To the consternation of the prelates of the Church, she persists in circulating her poems, redolent more of the court than the cloister. Her plays are performed, volumes of her poetry are published abroad, and her genius begins to be recognized throughout the Hispanic world. Suddenly she surrenders her books, forswears all literary pursuits, and signs in blood a renunciation of secular learning. The rest is silence. She dies two years later, at forty-six.

Octavio Paz has long been intrigued by the enigmas of Sor Juana's personality and career. Why did she become a nun? How could she renounce her lifelong passion for writing and learning? Such questions can be answered only in the context of the world in which she lived. Paz gives a masterly portrayal of the life and culture of New Spain and the political and ideological forces at work in that autocratic, theocratic, male-dominated society, in which the subjugation of women was absolute.

Just as Paz illuminates Sor Juana's life by placing it in its historical setting, so he situates her work in relation to the traditions that nurtured it. With critical authority he singles out the qualities that distinguish her work and mark her uniqueness as a poet. To Paz her writings, like her life, epitomize the struggle of the individual, and in particular the individual woman, for creative fulfillment and self-expression.

Mexico's leading poet, essayist, and cultural critic writes about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the most striking figure in all of Spanish-American colonial literature and one of the great poets of her age. Illustrated.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books

Sor Juana displays an extraordinary sweep of imagination and intelligence, and it is many things: a biography, a critical study, a re-creation of an era, a meditation on Mexican history, a dialogue of poet with poet, a reflection on the role of the intellectual in the modern world.
— Michael Wood

New York Times Book Review

An admiring and sympathetic portrait, but an honest and demythologizing one, too...The Sor Juana Mr. Paz renders is irreducible to labels—saint, iconoclast, virago, feminist, neurotic. Her life, like the Viceregal culture that formed her and was formed by her, was brilliant, flawed and complex. She argued passionately for sexual equality and intellectual freedom, yet championed the same orthodoxies with which she struggled.
— Frederick Luciani

Los Angeles Times Book Review

A sweeping and volcanic panorama.
— Richard Eder

New York Review of Books - Michael Wood
Sor Juana displays an extraordinary sweep of imagination and intelligence, and it is many things: a biography, a critical study, a re-creation of an era, a meditation on Mexican history, a dialogue of poet with poet, a reflection on the role of the intellectual in the modern world.
Carlos Fuentes
I believe Paz's book to be the culmination of his magnificent effort to bring history and poetry together. His Sor Juana is an intellectual landmark--a superb interpretation of the life and work of the first great Latin American poet, and the richest portrait we have of the intellectual life of the viceroyalty of New Spain. Octavio Paz has wrought speech from silence; he has made a mute century speak at last.
New York Times Book Review - Frederick Luciani
An admiring and sympathetic portrait, but an honest and demythologizing one, too...The Sor Juana Mr. Paz renders is irreducible to labels--saint, iconoclast, virago, feminist, neurotic. Her life, like the Viceregal culture that formed her and was formed by her, was brilliant, flawed and complex. She argued passionately for sexual equality and intellectual freedom, yet championed the same orthodoxies with which she struggled.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Richard Eder
A sweeping and volcanic panorama.
New York Times Book Review
An admiring and sympathetic portrait, but an honest and demythologizing one, too...The Sor Juana Mr. Paz renders is irreducible to labels--saint, iconoclast, virago, feminist, neurotic. Her life, like the Viceregal culture that formed her and was formed by her, was brilliant, flawed and complex. She argued passionately for sexual equality and intellectual freedom, yet championed the same orthodoxies with which she struggled.
— Frederick Luciani
Los Angeles Times Book Review
A sweeping and volcanic panorama.
— Richard Eder
New York Review of Books
Sor Juana displays an extraordinary sweep of imagination and intelligence, and it is many things: a biography, a critical study, a re-creation of an era, a meditation on Mexican history, a dialogue of poet with poet, a reflection on the role of the intellectual in the modern world.
— Michael Wood
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An illegitimate child, a Catholic nun, an outspoken defender of women's rights, a vivacious beauty who forsook the splendor of Mexico City's viceregal palace for a conventBaroque poet Juana Ramirez (1648-1694), also known as Sor (Sister) Juana Ines de la Cruz, was a bundle of passionate contradictions. Transforming her convent cell into a literary salon, she wrote essays, romances, love poems (some to a countess), ballads, religious and secular plays, epigrams. Her symbolic ode First Dream , about the pilgrimage of her soul while her body lay asleep, was two centuries ahead of its time. In this richly textured study, eminent Mexican poet-critic Paz finds Sor Juana's personality to be an amalgam of narcissism, insecurity, courage and masculinization. This brilliant intellectual biography should help broaden her reputation as a universal poet and proto-feminist. As a companion volume Harvard is simultaneously publishing A Sor Juana Anthology that includes poems, play excerpts and a plea for women's intellectual freedom. (September)
Library Journal
``The Mexican poet and essayist reevaluates and vindicates the life, times, and works of his 17th-century compatriot'' ( LJ 9/1/88).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674821064
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/2/1990
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 564
  • Sales rank: 1,002,839
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Octavio Paz is the author of more than forty columes of poetry and prose.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: History, Life, Work

Part One: THE KINGDOM OF NEW SPAIN

1. A Unique Society

2. The Dais and the Pulpit

3. Syncretism and Empire

4. A Transplanted Literature

Part Two: JUANA RAMÍREZ, 1648-11668

5. The Ramírez Family

6. May Syllables Be Composed by the Stars

7. The Trials of Juana Inés

8. Taking the Vows

Part Three: SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ, 1669-1679

9. Life in the Convent

10. Political Rites

11. The World as Hieroglyph

12. Sister Juana and the Goddess Isis

Part Four: SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ, 1680-1690

13. Flattery and Favors

14. Council of Stars

15. Religious Fires

16. The Reflection, the Echo

17. Realm of Signs

18. Different from Herself

Part Five: THE TENTH MUSE

19. Hear Me with Your Eyes

20. Ink on Wings of Paper

21. Music Box

22. The Stage and the Court

23. The Float and the Sacrament

24. First Dream

Part Six: THE TRAPS OF FAITH

25. An Ill-Fated Letter

26. The Response

27. And the Responses

28. The Siege

29 The Abjuration

Epilogue Toward a Restitution

Appendix Sor Juana: Witness for the Prosecution

Notes on Sources

Spanish Literary Terms

Notes

Index

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