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Juana Inés de la Cruz

Juana Inés de la Cruz Juana Inés de la Cruz[2†]

Juana Inés de la Cruz, born as Juana Ramírez de Asbaje[1†][2†], was a colonial Mexican writer, philosopher, composer, and poet of the Baroque period[1†][2†]. She was also a Hieronymite nun[1†][2†]. Her work and influence have earned her nicknames such as “The Tenth Muse” and “The Phoenix of America” from her contemporary critics[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Juana Inés de la Cruz, originally named Juana Ramírez de Asbaje[1†][2†], was born on November 12, 1648, in San Miguel Nepantla, Viceroyalty of New Spain (now in Mexico)[1†][2†]. She was the illegitimate daughter of Don Pedro Manuel de Asuaje y Vargas-Machuca, a Spanish navy captain from the Canary Islands involved in colonial transatlantic shipping and trade, and Doña Isabel Ramírez de Santillana y Rendón, a distinguished criolla[1†][2†].

Juana was a voracious reader from her early childhood, hiding in the hacienda chapel to read her grandfather’s books from the adjoining library[1†][3†]. She composed her first poem when she was eight years old[1†][3†]. By adolescence, she had comprehensively studied Greek logic, and was teaching Latin to young children at age thirteen[1†][3†].

Her prodigious intelligence attracted the attention of the viceroy, Antonio Sebastián de Toledo, marquis de Mancera[1†]. He invited her to court as a lady-in-waiting in 1664 and later had her knowledge tested by some 40 noted scholars[1†]. Despite having had an occasional contact with her father as a child, Sor Juana’s infancy occurred entirely around her mother’s family in the hacienda of Panaoya, in Amecameca, leased by her maternal grandfather, and home to the ample Ramírez de Santillana family[1†][2†].

In 1667, given what she called her “total disinclination to marriage” and her wish “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study,” Sor Juana began her life as a nun[1†]. She moved in 1669 to the more lenient Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite order in Mexico City, and there she took her vows[1†]. Convent life afforded Sor Juana her own apartment, time to study and write, and the opportunity to teach music and drama to the girls in Santa Paula’s school[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Juana Inés de la Cruz, also known as Sor Juana, was a self-taught scholar and poet of the Baroque school[1†][2†]. She is considered a leading literary figure of the Latin American colonial period and the Hispanic Baroque[1†][2†]. Her prodigious intelligence attracted the attention of the viceroy, Antonio Sebastián de Toledo, marquis de Mancera[1†]. He invited her to court as a lady-in-waiting in 1664 and later had her knowledge tested by some 40 noted scholars[1†].

In 1667, Sor Juana began her life as a nun with a brief stay in the order of the Discalced Carmelites[1†]. She moved in 1669 to the more lenient Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite order in Mexico City, and there she took her vows[1†]. Sor Juana remained cloistered in the Convent of Santa Paula for the rest of her life[1†]. Convent life afforded Sor Juana her own apartment, time to study and write, and the opportunity to teach music and drama to the girls in Santa Paula’s school[1†].

Sor Juana is remembered as the first published feminist of the New World (the Americas) and stands as a national icon of Mexico[1†]. She is recognized for both her outstanding writing and her influential perspectives on women and scholarship[1†].

Throughout history, Sor Juana’s significance to different communities has varied significantly. She has been presented as a candidate for Catholic sainthood, a symbol of Mexican nationalism, freedom of speech, women’s rights, sexual diversity, and others, making her a figure of great controversy and debate to this day[1†][2†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Juana Inés de la Cruz’s body of work is extensive and diverse, reflecting her intellectual curiosity and mastery of various literary forms[2†][1†]. Here are some of her main works:

In addition to these, she wrote many villancicos and devotional poems[2†][6†]. Her works were a blend of her deep religious beliefs and her advocacy for women’s rights[1†][4†]. Despite the constraints of her time, she produced a body of work that has had a lasting impact on literature in the Spanish language[2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s work is renowned for its disruption of the colonial and patriarchal structures of the society of New Spain, where she lived[7†]. Her writings reflect a broad range of genres and complex thought, requiring multiple approaches: literary, rhetorical, philosophical, theological, and historical[7†][8†].

Her most famous prose work, “Respuesta de la poetisa a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz”, written in 1691, is invaluable for the light it throws on Sor Juana’s life[7†][9†]. It provides a wealth of biographical information concerning her material existence as well as her mentally tortured life[7†][9†]. This work is a rhetorical tour de force in defense of her pursuit of knowledge and of the education of women[7†][8†].

Her long philosophical poem, “Primero sueño”, is in imitation of Luis de Góngora y Argote’s “Soledad primera”. In this dream narrative, her soul ascends to heavenly exaltation, but then descends to devote itself to scholarly pursuits and methodical knowledge[7†][9†]. It has been described by the critic Francisco López Camara as “a hymn to the awakening of the spirit of investigation or research, and an unsuspected forerunner of the poetry of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment”[7†][9†].

Sor Juana demonstrated extraordinary skill in handling Baroque conventions, infusing her delicate language with feminine vision and sensitivity[9†]. This sensitivity and poetic beauty won for her the title among her contemporaries of “the tenth muse”; she is considered the last great lyric poet of Spain and the first great poet of America[7†][9†].

Personal Life

Juana Inés de la Cruz was born as the illegitimate daughter of Don Pedro Manuel de Asuaje y Vargas-Machuca, a Spanish navy captain from the Canary Islands involved in colonial transatlantic shipping and trade, and Doña Isabel Ramírez de Santillana y Rendón, a distinguished criolla[2†]. Her mother sent her to live with relatives in Mexico City, where her prodigious intelligence attracted the attention of the viceroy[2†][1†].

Despite having occasional contact with her father as a child, Sor Juana’s infancy occurred entirely around her mother’s family in the hacienda of Panaoya, in Amecameca, leased by her maternal grandfather[2†]. Among her relatives, several women with the name “Inés” have been noted, including her grandmother Inés de Brenes, her maternal-aunt Inés Ramírez de Santillana, and her first-cousin Inés de Brenes y Mendoza[2†].

Given what she called her “total disinclination to marriage” and her wish “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study,” Sor Juana began her life as a nun with a brief stay in the order of the Discalced Carmelites[2†][1†]. She moved in 1669 to the more lenient Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite order in Mexico City, and there she took her vows[2†][1†]. Sor Juana remained cloistered in the Convent of Santa Paula for the rest of her life[2†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is remembered as the first published feminist of the New World (the Americas) and stands as a national icon of Mexico[10†]. Her outstanding writing and influential perspectives on women and scholarship have been recognized worldwide[10†]. She broke barriers at a time when women were actively discouraged from seeking education and knowledge[10†][11†]. Her brave advocacy for women’s rights marked her as a precursor of feminist thought[10†][11†].

Her legacy resonates with people worldwide, and she is commemorated on the 200-peso bill in Mexico[10†]. Sor Juana’s work continues to be studied and admired for its depth, wisdom, and pioneering feminist themes[10†][11†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Mexican poet and scholar [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Juana Inés de la Cruz [website] - link
  3. Academy of American Poets - About Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz [website] - link
  4. Biography - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz [website] - link
  5. Stanford University SearchWorks - Poems, protest, and a dream : selected writings in SearchWorks catalog [website] - link
  6. Internet Archive - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz : selected writings : Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sister, 1651-1695 [website] - link
  7. Cambridge University Press - The Cambridge Companion to Latin American Poetry - Chapter: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Chapter 6) [website] - link
  8. Oxford Bibliographies - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Analysis [website] - link
  10. Britannica - What was Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s legacy? [website] - link
  11. Luz Media - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: A Feminist Icon [website] - link
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