Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life

Article excerpt

St, Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life. By Carole Slade. (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1995. Pp. xxii, 204. $35.00.)

Since the late 1970's, a number of important studies have sought to demonstrate that, far from being spontaneous, artless, and uncultivated, St. Teresa of Avila was a self-conscious and talented, if not always careful, writer. Carole Slade's well written and clearly organized book St. Teresa ofAvila:Author of a Heroic Life is the most recent contribution to this reworking of the saint's image. According to Slade, Teresa's writings "comprise an elaborate project of self-representation and self-interpretation" (p. 1).

Slade argues that Teresa's Life originated with a command to write a judicial confession in anticipation of a possible inquisitorial process. Teresa, however, subverted this genre, which presumed the respondent's guilt, by shifting the generic resonance of the words she employed and by adapting aspects of Christian autobiography in the tradition of St. Augustine's Confessions. Close reading of key sections of the Life, together with the Interior Castle and the Foundations, substantiates this thesis. For example, the first ten chapters of the Life, which present Teresa's pre-conversion life, are informed not only by the genre of judicial confession, but also by that of first-person hagiography. While the prodigal son is the most important figure for Augustine's self-interpretation, Mary Magdalen and other New Testament women are paradigmatic for Teresa. In the Life, chaps. 11-22, and in the Interior Castle,Teresa's presentation of her mystical experience is cast in the Augustinian vocabulary of the faculties of the soul and takes the form of "analogies," such as the four ways of watering a garden, the crystal and diamond castle, the palmetto and tree of life, the silkworm and butterfly.

Teresa's post-conversion "new life," Slade points out, finds apostolic expression in her activity as monastic reformer and foundress. This facet of Teresa's self-representation is introduced in the Life, chaps. 32-36, which recount the foundation of the first reformed monastery of St. Joseph's in Avila, and is fully developed in the Foundations. Generically, the latter is akin to contemporary New World conquest chronicles in Teresa's presentation of herself in heroic terms, as well as to the "allegory of female authority" of Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies in the interpolated biographies of Teresa's nuns. …

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