Sor Juana Ines De la Cruz: Religion, Art, and Feminism

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SorJuana Ines de la Cruz:Religion, Art, and Feminism. By Pamela Kirk. (New York: The Continuum Press. 1998. Pp. 180. $34.50.)

A first acquaintance with Sor Juana in 1988 moved Pamela Kirk to write this work, which is mostly an analysis of the religious writings of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: her sacramental dramas, the meditations for the Virgin Mary, her villancicos or poems to be sung on special church celebrations, and her famous Carta Atenag6rica, an analysis of the finest gifts of Christ to humanity. Also included is the story of her controversial relationship with the bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, embodied in a response to his critique. Less ambitious than George Tavard's Theology of Beauty, this book seems to aim at a general reader with interest in how religious women writers of the past tackled the challenge of interpreting theological teachings.

Sor Juana needs no introduction to any student of Latin American colonial literature and history. Famous as she was in her own times, her reputation began to rise again early this century and has reached a climax of popularity never envisioned by the nun herself. She has become a literary icon in Mexico. Literally thousands of works have been written on her work, since the facts about her life are meager in comparison with her prodigious production. Yet, it is also true that, until recently, interest in Sor Juana's spirituality remained largely unexplored. The greater appeal of her plays, her poems, the philosophical poem "First Dream," and the writings resulting from her troubled relationship with the bishop of Puebla have overshadowed most other aspects of her life and literary production.

Kirk's survey of Sor Juana's religious writings leans on well-known and solid bases. For those acquainted with the recent copious analyses of Sor Juana's works, there are no surprises here. Her study of Sor Juana's iconography follows an interpretation that will be of interest to scholars and the reading public. Kirk supports a view of Sor Juana's writing as "feminist. …