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SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ

Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695).
Segundo tomo de las obras de soror Juana Inés de la Cruz, monja professa en el monasterio del señor San Geronimo en la ciudad de Mexico.
Barcelona: Joseph Llopis, 1693.

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born to an unmarried Criollo woman and a Spanish captain at Tepetlixpa, Mexico. As a young girl she taught herself to read several languages, including Latin, Greek, and Nahuatl, in her maternal grandfather’s library. Although her intellectual gifts made her famous among the cultural elite of New Spain, girls were not eligible for higher education. Therefore she entered the Convent of San Geronimo (St. Jerome) in Mexico City in 1669, taking the name Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz. In the convent she was able to continue writing spiritual poems, plays, and essays until 1690, when she produced a critique of a sermon by the famous Jesuit António de Vieira. This led the Bishop of Mexico to condemn her intellectual pursuits as unbefitting her gender. When she responded with an essay that described the attitude of the Church as patriarchal and misogynistic, the Bishop officially censured her and prohibited her writings. Modern critics have argued that Sor Juana produced some of the most important poetic and polemical works written in the Americas before the mid-nineteenth century.

The exhibited volume, printed in Spain, is a rare edition of Sor Juana’s works published during her lifetime. Although the book begins with her controversial critique of Vieira, the preface by an officer of the Spanish Inquisition notes that there is nothing in the text that offends the true Catholic religion, while much is to be admired. The exhibited book displays the beginning of one of Sor Juana’s most important poetic works, the Primero Sueño, or “First Dream,” a lyrical meditation on the soul’s yearning for knowledge.