cover image Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith,

Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith,

Octavio Paz. Belknap Press, $57 (564pp) ISBN 978-0-674-82105-7

An illegitimate child, a Catholic nun, an outspoken defender of women's rights, a vivacious beauty who forsook the splendor of Mexico City's viceregal palace for a conventBaroque poet Juana Ramirez (1648-1694), also known as Sor (Sister) Juana Ines de la Cruz, was a bundle of passionate contradictions. Transforming her convent cell into a literary salon, she wrote essays, romances, love poems (some to a countess), ballads, religious and secular plays, epigrams. Her symbolic ode First Dream , about the pilgrimage of her soul while her body lay asleep, was two centuries ahead of its time. In this richly textured study, eminent Mexican poet-critic Paz finds Sor Juana's personality to be an amalgam of narcissism, insecurity, courage and masculinization. This brilliant intellectual biography should help broaden her reputation as a universal poet and proto-feminist. As a companion volume Harvard is simultaneously publishing A Sor Juana Anthology that includes poems, play excerpts and a plea for women's intellectual freedom. (September)