Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695)


Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz is best known as a major Baroque literary figure of Mexico. However, her insatiable desire to understand everything around her, coupled with her studies in classical and medieval philosophy and her fierce assertion of a woman's right to fully participate in scholastic inquiry mark her as a philosopher as well. According to Mary Morkovsky, Sor Juana's philosophical poetry, (Sueno) indicates a coherent world view, and her critique of the Jesuit sermon reveals her mastery of logic. In addition, in the same decade that England's Mary Astell wrote her argument for the education of women, A Serious Proposal To The Ladies...,in Mexico, Sor Juana was hotly defending a woman's right to an education and intellectual prowess in Reply to Sor Philothea .

Oh, how much harm would be avoided in our country if older women were as learned as Laeta and knew how to teach in the way Saint Paul and my Father Saint Jerome direct! Instead of which, if fathers wish to educate their daughters beyond what is customary, for want of trained older women and on account of the extreme negligence which has become women's sad lot, since well-educated older women are unavailable, they are obliged to bring in men teachers to give instruction...As a result of this, many fathers prefer leaving their daughters in a barbaric, uncultivated state to exposing them to an evident danger such a familiarity with men breeds.


Sor Juana Timeline

1648November, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz de Asbaje y Ramirez is born in the village of San Miguel Mepantla near Mexico City. She is the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje and Isabe Ramirez. The father, according to all accounts, is absent from her life. She is baptized December 2 when she is registered on the Church rolls as "a daughter of the Church" because her parents were not married. She is raised in the country at the home of her maternal grandfather.
1651 (aprox.)At the age of three, Sor Juana follows her sister to a school for "amigas" (girls) and coaxes the teacher into teaching her to read. She then turns to her grandfather's library and is unstoppable in her quest of learning through study of his books.
1654-58.Sor Juana hears of the university in Mexico City and begs her mother to send her there disguised as a boy. Her mother refuses, so Sor Juana continues to conte nt herself with her grandfather's library. She writes a dramatic poem for the Eucharist and inflicts punishments on herself for not learning fast enough. She receives twenty Latin grammar lessons which she forces herself to learn well by cutting her hai r off everytime she doesn't learn a certain point. She later said, in her Reply to Sor Philothea, "It turned out that the hair grew quickly and I learned slowly. As a result, I cut off the hair in punishment for my head's ignorance, for it didn't seem right to me that a head so naked of knowledge should be dressed up with hair. For knowledge is a more desirable adornment." (Flynn, 15)
1659 (aprox.)Sor Juana is sent to live with her aunt in Mexico City. By this time, Sor Juana's knowledge and memory is amazing and she becomes known as a prodigy.
1664.A new viceregal couple, Antonio Sebastian de Toledo, Marquis de Mancera, and Leonor Carreto arrive in Mexico City. They hear of Sor Juana and she is presented a t their court. Vicereine Leonor takes the sixteen year-old girl under her wing as a maid-in-waiting. Sor Juana spends five years in the court of the viceregal couple. She continues to develop intellectually and socially. The Marquis later recounted th at he tested Sor Juana's knowledge with a barrage of learned men, theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, historians, poets, and other specialists; the ease with which she answered their questions and argued her points put to rest once and for all her intellectual brilliance. Also during this time, she writes numerous poems and sonnets, many for funerary or celebratory occasions.
166714 August, Sor Juana enters the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph. She finds the reformed rule of this order too strict and leaves the Convent November 18 of the same year.
166924 February, Sor Juana enters the Convent of the Order of St. Jerome where she remains until her death. In his forward to A Sor Juana Anthology, Octavio Paz notes that the life of this Convent was not austere. The nuns had private living quarters, often occupying two floors, and complete with kitchens, baths and parlors. Many of the nuns, including Sor Juana, had servants. This lifestyle allows Sor Jua na to amass her own library, to write, correspond, study, and hold intellectual court with her friends. Her duties at the Convent include attendance of divine offices, observance of canonical hours, and teaching girls musical and dramatic activities. Th e viceregal couple continue to protect Sor Juana from detractors and are regular visitors to her "salon". (p.4-6)
1673.The viceregal term of the Marquis and Marquise de Mancera ends. Sor Juana remains on good terms with the viceregal court, now headed by Archbishop Friar Payo Enr iques de Ribera, although he does not attend her intellectual gatherings as frequently.
1676-91.Sor Juana writes carols for the Cathedrals of Mexico, Puebla, and Oaxaca.
1680.Friar Payo is succeeded by the Marquis de la Laguna, and his wife Maria Luisa, Countess de Paredes. Sor Juana and Maria are close in age and soon become close fr iends. Maria is portrayed in Sor Juana's poetry of this period as Phyllis and Lysis. She encourages and supports Sor Juana to write.
1683.Sor Juana writes the secular play, The Trials of a Noble House.
1688.The Marquis and Marquise de la Laguna depart for Spain. Sor Juana no longer has noble protection. Her superior, prelate, Francisco Aguiar y Seijas, Archbishop o f Mexico is, according to Paz, "fiercely misogynistic and strongly opposed to secular drama." Trouble begins to brew for Sor Juana's intellectual freedom. (Anth. p7)
1689.Sor Juana writes another secular play, Love, the Greater Labyrinth. Marquise de la Laguna has an anthology of Sor Juana's poetry published in Spain under the title The Overflowing of the Castalian Spring, by the Tenth Muse of Mexico. Sor Juana also writes a sacramental play, The Divine Narcissus at the Marquise's request.
1690 1690. In a discussion with her long-time friend, the Bishop of Puebla, Sor Juana gives a critique of a famous sermon given forty years earlier by the eminent Por tuguese Jesuit, Antonio de Vieira. The Bishop is impressed with her argument and requests her to put them in writing. He then, without Sor Juana's knowledge publishes the writing Missive Worthy of Athena. However, he also includes a letter of hi s own admonishing Sor Juana for her intellectualism under the pen name Sor Philothea de la Cruz. It is evident that the Bishop was not the friend Sor Juana thought him, since this left her open to attack from the misogynist Archbishop.
16911 March, Sor Juana publishes Reply to Sor Philothea. In it, she recounts her intellectual history, defends herself and defends women's rights to education . Pressure on her to turn from worldly intellectualism is increased.
1693.Sor Juana repents of "having lived so long without religion in a religious community." Her pen is silenced.
169517 April, Sor Juana dies of the plague after caring for her sick sisters.


Sor Juana Time Line Sources