Writing in the Margins of the Twentieth Century
In the spring of 1935 Tejana folklorist Jovita González sat down in her South Texas study and wrote a short story: a fact not astonishing in itself, but unexpected nonetheless, given the resources necessary for the creation of fiction—a quiet room, time, repose—none of which were usually available to Mexican American women in Texas circa 1935. Miss González (for at that particular moment she was still a “Miss”) didn’t write about romantic love, a subject that might well have been on her mind since she was planning her wedding at the time, or even about the folk traditions of Texas Mexicans, her central scholarly preoccupation during this period. Instead she turned away from these personal and professional concerns and crafted a story about two women in dialogue—and not just any two women. In a literary gesture that might have been considered audacious by some of her Anglo friends in the English Department at the University of Texas, Miss González imagined a conversation between two foundational figures in American letters: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Anne Bradstreet.
She set this imaginary dialogue within the “close and smoky” confines of her own study and titled it “Shades of the Tenth Muse,” a historically appropriate choice given that both Bradstreet and Sor Juana were celebrated as the “Tenth Muse” of the Americas, Bradstreet in England and Sor Juana in Spain. While their parallel titles suggest the two traditions from which González drew her uniquely gendered vision of American literature, Sor Juana and Anne Bradstreet share the space of González’s study in uneasy and frequently conflictual relation, debating questions of race, nation, and history, while acknowledging key points of connection, in particular their social location as “women who like knowing” (as Bradstreet puts it) within colonial cultures dominated by patriarchy. As such, their dialogue suggests a shared epistemological orientation that traverses the boundaries