Force and affliction in Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and George Herbert

Buffy Ann Turner, Purdue University


This dissertation sets two seventeenth-century writers—Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and George Herbert<—>within a larger framework and opens up dialogue across national and religious, as well as linguistic and gender-based, boundaries. While some work has been done to integrate Sor Juana into a larger context, there is little overlap between the well-worked scholarship on seventeenth-century English poetry and the writings of Sor Juana which have only recently surfaced for the English-speaking world in discussions of feminist theory and Spanish colonialism. By focusing on the forceful ways in which these writers express both devotion and torment, I show how Sor Juana and Herbert, to very different ends, use writing to resist submission by expressing contempt against the affliction they experience. My first two chapters address the aggressive strains permeating the voice of devotion in these two writers. Investigating the strategies and methodologies guiding the rhetorical spearing in Herbert's Temple and Sor Juana's Respuesta a Sor Filotea, I show how these written acts of defiance precipitate their final resignations: Herbert's to God, and Sor Juana's to the institution purporting to represent God. Where Herbert's assaults and engagements prove ultimately productive, his God sanctioning them, Sor Juana's maneuvers, given her gender and position within the larger ecclesiastical order, pose a threat to the hierarchy she writes within and therefore must be silenced. Chapters three and four address the theme of affliction so dominant in Herbert's and Sor Juana's writings, the experience of which stems largely, I argue, from their refusal to submit. By examining Herbert's “Affliction” poems, which constitute his largest sequence of poems in The Temple, I show that much like the strife examined in chapter one, the agony depicted in Herbert's poems is ultimately fortifying—a truth Herbert's speakers only gradually recognize but which is hinted at throughout the poems. In considering Sor Juana's representations of affliction, I return to the Respuesta and show that although both Herbert and Sor Juana ultimately accept the Pauline charge to take up their crosses and die with Christ, in Sor Juana's environment what constitutes that dying depends on one's sex. I furthermore consider the theme of affliction as elaborated upon in Sor Juana's non-religious poems, “Ya, desengaño mío” (“Disillusionment”) and “Diuturna enfermedad de la esperanza” (“Hope, long-lasting fever of men's lives”). While the notions of deception and disenchantment within Herbert's “Affliction” poems point to the speaker's need for growth and his virtual illiteracy in spiritual matters, in Sor Juana's poems the identification of deception and experience of disillusionment is presented as growth itself. Moreover, where Herbert's poems ultimately articulate a hope in Christ which strengthens the speaker amidst suffering, these secular poems of Sor Juana treat hope as an illusion which rather enhances the speakers' affliction.




Ross, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Modern literature

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