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date: 26 September 2022

Nuns’ Writing in Colonial Mexicolocked

Nuns’ Writing in Colonial Mexicolocked

  • Stephanie KirkStephanie KirkRomance Languages and Literatures, Washington University in St Louis - Danforth Campus


During the colonial period in Mexico, convents and their inhabitants played a central role in society. Nuns, who lived in permanent enclosure behind convent walls, were living emblems of New World orthodoxy and of the success of the Spanish evangelization project. Subject to a repressive gender ideology and the misogyny of the Church, nuns’ lives were carefully monitored and contained. While becoming a nun represented a valid and often attractive choice for the Spanish and criolla women who were permitted to profess as nuns in convent, the Church authorities went to great lengths to ensure they followed strictly circumscribed rules regarding their daily lives and spiritual trajectories. Nuns, however, succeeded in finding a variety of ways to exercise agency and demonstrate their individuality including the writing of different types of texts. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695), was both a nun and the most influential writer of her age. While the depth of her erudition and the breadth of her literary skill set her apart from other nuns, she nonetheless shared their devotion to God and their experience of convent life in colonial Mexico. While most other nuns did not always possess such great literary skills, their works stand as documents that detail women’s spirituality and the affective response this engendered in them, as well as providing evidence of their daily lives. Their writings allow us a glimpse into their worlds, in which they express their great devotion and love of God but also detail the challenges they encounter as “brides of Christ” subject to male control. The most significant genre of convent writing is the spiritual autobiography or vida. Nuns could only embark on the drafting of these texts at the instigation of and under the supervision of the male confessor. These men would reorganize and rescript them to ensure they conformed to male-defined norms of spiritual exemplarity for women. However, women’s own words show how, even while they understood the power dynamics of this relationship, they drew on rhetorical and discursive strategies to communicate their subjectivity. Nuns also wrote a variety of different texts including letters, poetry, and theater (mostly, but not exclusively, of a religious nature).


  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • Poetry

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