Recovering voices long relegated to silence, The Lives of Women deciphers the responses of women to the culture of control in seventeenth-century Spain. In this new history of Inquisitional Spain, Lisa Vollendorf incorporates convent texts, Inquisition cases, biographies, and women’s literature to reveal a previously unrecognized boom in women’s writing between 1580 and 1700. .
During this period, more women wrote for the public book market and participated in literary culture than ever before. In addition, the rise in convents and female education contributed to a marked increase in texts produced by and about women in religious orders. Vollendorf argues that, in conjunction with Inquisition and legal documents, this wealth of writing offers unprecedented access to women’s perspectives on life in early modern Spain, and that those perspectives encompass diverse ethnic backgrounds and class differences. Many of the documents touch on issues of sex and intimacy; others provide new ways of understanding religious practice in the period. Perhaps most important, these writings give a richly textured view of how women reacted to the dominant culture’s attempts to define, limit, and contain femininity. Vollendorf shows that the texts reflect a shared preoccupation with redefining gender and creating legitimate spaces for women.
As The Lives of Women vividly illustrates, hundreds, if not thousands, of women’s stories await rediscovery in archives. The book provides a roadmap for understanding the experiences and concerns of wives, widows, sisters, and daughters who lived in a key moment in the development of the Spanish nation and the Hispanic world. At its core, The Lives of Women argues for a reconceptualization of history, one that will rely on the experiences of women and minorities as much as on the words and actions of kings and conquistadors.