Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana (12 November 1651 [or 1648, according to some biographers] - 17 April 1695), also known as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz or, in full, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz de Asbaje y Ramírez, was a self taught Novohispano scholar, nun, and writer of the baroque school.

She came from a family in the small village of San Miguel de Nepantla, near Amecameca (modern-day México State). Christened Juana Inés Ramírez, she was a great lover of literature and learned Latin before she was ten. She was exceptional not only for her intelligence but also because girls in 17th century Ibero-America rarely received schooling. By the age of fifteen, Juana was considered a child prodigy and became a lady-in-waiting to the viceroy's wife in 1664. Her life in the palace was a decisive influence, as her work is full of references to courtly life.

After four years in the viceroy's court, and seeking freedom to pursue knowledge, Juana decided to become a nun. She entered the Convent of San Jerónimo, where she remained until her death in 1695. By her own account, life in the convent indeed gave her freedoms that she would never have had if she had married, as was expected of respectable women. For instance, she often held discussions about natural science with intellectuals in her private suite, and devoted much of her time to writing poems and plays.

Given her background as an educated, outspoken woman, and born in an environment of a native population that eternally fought against Spanish domination, it is not surprising that Sor Juana wrote literature centered on freedom. In the poem "Hombres necios" she rebels by defending a woman's right to be respected as a human being. "Hombres necios" (Stubborn men) criticises the sexism of the society of her time, and pokes fun at men who condemn prostitution, as men are those who benefit the most from its existence. In the romantic comedy entitled Los empeños de una casa about a brother and a sister entangled in a web of love, she writes using two of her favorite themes, love and jealousy. Yet, these emotions are not presented in a moralizing way, but in the spirit of her lifetime interests, the pursuit of liberty and knowledge.

Unfortunately for Sor Juana, her outspoken stance incurred the displeasure of the Catholic Church. This was especially dangerous for her when one considers the historical context -- it was the time of the Counter Reformation and anyone who challenged society's values could easily get into trouble with the all-powerful Church. Things came to a climax in 1690, when a letter was published that attacked Sor Juana's focus on the sciences, and suggested that she should devote her time to theology.

In response, Sor Juana wrote a letter entitled Respuesta a Sor Filotea in which she defended women's right to any education they desired. But she soon found that the Catholic Church was not at all sympathetic to her views. The Archbishop of Mexico joined other high-ranking officials in condemning Sor Juana's "waywardness". Finally around 1693 Sor Juana appears to have decided to stop writing, rather than risk any further censure. There is no evidence of her actually renouncing her devotion to letters, and the documents of self-humiliation to which she supposedly put her name in 1694 have the tone of mere rhetorical formulae (one of these is signed "Yo, la peor del mundo" (I, the worst woman in the world)). However, she was forced to sell all her books, an extensive library of some 4,000 volumes, as well as her musical and scientific instruments. In April 1695, plague hit the convent, with great loss of life. Sor Juana contracted the disease and died at four in the morning on April 17.

Despite this unhappy ending, Sor Juana's experiences showed that women (upper-class women in New Spain, at least) did not always have to follow society's expectations. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz broke barriers by simply following her dreams and resisting outside pressure -- a remarkable feat given her position as a woman and a representative of the Catholic Church.

Fictionialised biographical treatments

Sor Juana's life was portrayed in the 1990 film Yo, la peor de todas ("I, The Worst of All") directed by María Luisa Bemberg. Sor Juana was played by Spanish actress Assumpta Serna. Her life was fictionalized in Alicia Gaspar de Alba's 1999 work Sor Juana's Second Dream : A Novel. A 2004 novel by Canadian author W. Paul Anderson, Hunger's Brides, also deals with the life of Sor Juana. A play was also written based on her life and decision to convert; "Los pecados de Sor Juana" or "The Sins of Sor Juana," written by Karen Zacarías.

This biography was taken verbatim from the Wikipedia. We're providing a snapshot just in case the Wikipedia servers were temporarily unreacheable. The original page is not only much more up-to-date, it also features links to other pages and sites. This snapshot was last updated: 08/15/2006. (mm/dd/yyyy)

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