In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies

American Literature Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Natalie Kubasek
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0132


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (b. 1648–d. 1695) was born Juana Ramírez de Asbaje in San Miguel Nepantla, a rural area near Mexico City. She was the “illegitimate” child of a Spaniard, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and a criolla woman, Isabel Ramírez. Even at a young age, Sor Juana demonstrated a keen intellect as she taught herself to read in her grandfather’s library at the age of three, and wrote a loa, which is a brief poem of praise, preceding a play, for the celebration of Santísimo Sacramento in Amecameca at the age of eight. Sor Juana was so devoted to pursuing an education that she begged her mother to allow her to dress in men’s clothing in order to study at Mexico University, but her mother refused her permission. Sor Juana’s intellect and voracious appetite for knowledge garnered her a reputation as a child prodigy, and she became a favorite in the viceregal court, especially of the viceriene Doña Leonar Carreto, Marquesa de Moncera. At the age of sixteen, in 1664, Sor Juana was asked to join the court as the viceriene’s lady in waiting, where the beautiful girl fended off many unwanted marriage proposals. In 1667, at the age of eighteen, she joined the conservative Convent of the Barefoot Carmelites, but she left the convent that same year due to illness. Two years later, in 1669, she joined the more liberal order of San Jerónimo at the Convent of Santa Paula. There, Sor Juana was allowed to continue her studies of philosophy, music, and natural science in her own library. Sor Juana was a prolific writer, penning a number of songs, poems, plays, and prose works that demonstrate her mastery and innovation of the Baroque tradition. The 975-line silva, El primero sueño, is by far her most complex poem and it is considered by many critics to be her master piece. In 1683, Sor Juana wrote a secular fête entitled Los empeños de una casa followed by the religious play El divino Narciso in 1689. Her most famous pieces of writing are unarguably La carta atenagórica and La respuesta a Sor Filotea. La carta atenagórica was published in 1690 by Sor Juana’s friend, the bishop of Puebla, without her consent. In this letter, the nun criticizes a famous sermon given in 1650 by a Portuguese Jesuit named Antonio de Vieira. However, the bishop also published La carta atenagórica, along with a letter that he wrote under the name of “Sor Filotea,” in which he chastised Sor Juana for her intellectual pursuits. In response, Sor Juana penned a letter entitled La respuesta de la poetisa a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz (1691), in which she staunchly defended a woman’s right to education. The letter caused much controversy in the church, and many ecclesiastics began to pressure Sor Juana to give up her “worldly” studies. Sor Juana, however, continued to publish until floods and famine hit Mexico City in 1691 and 1692. Sor Juana eventually succumbed to ecclesiastical pressure and was forced to sell her personal collection of more than 4,000 books, along with her musical and scientific instruments. In 1695 the plague ravished the Convent of Santa Paula and Sor Juana contracted the disease while caring for her sick sisters. She died of the plague on April 17, 1695.

General Overviews

Paz 1982 and Poot Herrera 1995 provide the most comprehensive overviews and thus are essential starting points for any Sor Juana scholarship. Leiva 1975 remains an informative introduction to the poetry of Sor Juana, as does Xirau 1997. Glantz 1996 provides a wonderfully visual historical introduction to the author. Sabàt de Rivers 1998 provides an excellent introduction to criticism on Sor Juana. All of these texts are easily available.

  • Glantz, Margo. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Saberes y Placeres. Toluca, Mexico: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura, 1996.

    Excellent historical and visual introduction to Sor Juana for scholars and nonscholars. Offers a biographical overview of Sor Juana, along with images of places and artifacts that provide a visual historical context. In Spanish.

  • Kanratis, Geoffrey. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Juana Ramírez de Asbaje) Lecture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, Centre of Latin American Studies.

    A useful introduction for graduate students that is easy to navigate. In-depth lecture on Sor Juana’s life and works from Cambridge University. Includes a table of contents with links to different sections of the lecture. Sections include “Introduction,” “Context,” “Knowledge and Gender,” “Playing with Form,” “Hybrid Difference,” “Illusion and Reality,” “and Sexual Difference.” In English.

  • Leiva, Raúl. Introducción a Sor Juana: Sueño y Realidad. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México, 1975.

    Very useful for someone who is unfamiliar with Sor Juana’s writings. Offers explanations of Sor Juana’s romances, sonnets, love poetry, and letters as well as an entire chapter devoted to El primero sueño. In Spanish.

  • Paz, Octavio. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1982.

    Considered the most authoritative and comprehensive biographical study on Sor Juana, this work provides historical context, biography, textual analyses of her poems, and illustrations. An essential read for anyone interested in Sor Juana. In Spanish. An English translation of the text was published in 1988.

  • Poot Herrera, Sara, ed. Sor Juana y su mundo: Una mirada actual. Mexico City: Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Cultura, 1995.

    As the title suggests, this work is an excellent source for readers who desire to understand Sor Juana’s life and writings within the larger context of Baroque New Spain. Each chapter situates Sor Juana’s work within the historical context of Baroque religion, politics, and art. Each of the nine essays is accompanied by images of Baroque artifacts, paintings, and sculptures. In Spanish.

  • Sabàt de Rivers, Georgina. En Busca de Sor Juana. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1998.

    This is a collection of essays that spans a variety of topics, including a biographical study; textual analyses of her poetry, letters, and dramatic plays; and critical examinations of her theology and proto-feminist ideas. Excellent text for graduate students who want to familiarize themselves with pertinent topics of debate in Sor Juana scholarship. In Spanish.

  • Xirau, Ramón. Genio y figura de sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. 2d ed. Mexico City: El Colegio Nacional, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1997.

    Originally published in 1967. This edition contains a biographical overview and introductions to selected writings, including El primer sueño, as well as updated commentary and a bibliography. Also includes full-text versions of selected writings. In Spanish.

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