Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Addressee Determines the Discourse: The Role of the Confessor in the Spiritual Autobiography of Madre María de San Joseph (1656-1719)

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (1992), 69, (1), 39


BHS, LXIX (1992) The Addressee Determines the Discourse: The Role of the Confessor in the Spiritual Autobiography of Madre Maria de San Joseph (1656-1719) KATHLEEN A. MYERS Indiana University, Bloomington New World nuns' writings of the self are characterized by the influence exercised by the person to whom the texts are addressed. The majority of nuns who wrote their life stories did so at the behest of the confessor, who read the accounts and, if he found their lives worthy of emulation or deserving of censure, passed the writings along to other Church officials. The most outspoken reply to the problems caused by this situation is Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz's 'Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz', in which she responds to her confessor's expectations concerning the selfrepresentation and writing of religious women. Her work is first to dismantle the traditional Church image of woman as passive and ignorant, then to reconstruct an image of woman as capable of pursuing intellectual and religious knowledge. To achieve this end, Sor Juana employs strategies now widely recognized by feminist literary critics as prevalent in pre-twentieth-century women's attempts to gain authority over their words: the use of matrilineal narratives, duplicitous and submerged meanings, and similar devices. Using comparable strategies, a contemporary of Sor Juana, the Augustinian Recollect nun from Puebla, Madre Maria de San Joseph, reveals the tensions inherent in her role as 'escritora por obediencia' through her manipulation of Ianguage and narrative formula. While inscribing herself in the hagiographical Iiterarure of the day, Madre Maria also manipulates the discourse to circumvent, when possible, the control of her reader, thus enabling her to create her own self-portrait. 1 To view better the dynamic at work in this relationship between (female) author and (male) reader and its textual result, it will be useful first briefly to examine the definitions of woman and woman's speech in the colonial Latin American Church. Madre Maria's text reflects a dialogic engagement with this patriarchal discourse, which promoted the idea of sexual difference: that is, the notion of woman as the embodiment of 'otherness', to use Gilbert and Gubar's term, as either angels or monsters.f On the one hand, to be angelic was to be selfless and silent. Woman does not create but responds to male projections of the passive 39 Copyright (c) 2004 ProQuest Information and Learning Company Copyright (c) Liverpool University Press

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