She’s commonly extolled as Latin America’s first noteworthy poet, and first published feminist of the New World. Born November 12, 1651 near Mexico City, Juana Inés de la Cruz revealed her devotion to and immense capacity for learning early on. She was reading and solving equations before five; at eight years old she’d composed her first poem. By the time she reached adolescence, she was conversant in Greek logic, and could speak, read, and write in both Latin and the Aztec language Nahuatl. Actually, her dedication to scholarship was so fanatical, every time she made an error in Latin she chopped-off her hair.
Since Juana’s gender prohibited her from entering university, she concocted a ruse to disguise herself as male. Though her ploy was fruitfulness, Juana’s education continued under the direction of Leonor Carreto, wife of Viceroy Marquis de Mancera. A year later, the viceroy staged an exhibition to demonstrate her scholastic virtuosities. The congregation of academics, theorists, and ecclesiastics were thunderstruck. News of Juana’s cerebral dexterity spread; she became a celebrity at her benefactors’ court and throughout New Spain.
Desiring "to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study," she joined a religious community. She chose the Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite, where she lived the remainder of her life. Enjoying the continued sponsorship of the vicereine and viceroy, Juana authored plays starring courageous female protagonists, audacious poems like "Hombres necios" (Foolish Men), a barbed critique of men’s treatment of women, and carols.
After her patrons’ relocated to Spain, her favored status deteriorated; unexpectedly, Juana was castigated instead of esteemed for her virtuosic creations. Consequently, her most celebrated work is Respuesta a sor Filotea de la Cruz (Reply to Sister Filotea of the Cross). A riposte to detractors, La Respuesta as a forceful vindication of a woman’s right to education. She underscored how studying/pursuing secular disciplines aided her comprehension of religious doctrine, observing, “One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.” She employed arguments made by Saint Jerome and Saint Paul, and catalogued distinguished women from antiquity and modern times. Subsequently, La Respuesta has been touted as the first feminist declaration.
Ultimately, the controversy regarding her accomplishments overwhelmed Juana. She was compelled to sell her books (totaling over 4,000 volumes) for offerings; likewise, Juana was required to yield her scientific and musical instruments, too. Afterwards, she renewed her holy vows, abandoned her scholarship and writing, and committed the remainder of her life to repentance.
Juana passed-away on April 17, 1695 in Mexico City after caring for nuns in her community stricken by plague. She was 44 years old. Currently, Mexico cherishes Juana as a national symbol. Her image graces the 200 peso note, and both her home-town, formerly San Miguel Nepantla, and the site of her abbey, have been rechristened in her memory.
Source: 1, 2, 3
The History Bitch
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