Teresa de Avila, Lettered Woman
Publication Year: 2009
Teresa's epistolary writing reveals how she used her political acumen to dodge inquisitors and negotiate the thorny issues of the reform, facing off the authorities--albeit with considerable tact--and reprimanding priests and nuns who failed to follow her orders. Her letters bring to light the different strategies she used--code names, secret routing--in order to communicate with nuns and male allies. They show how she manipulated language, varying her tone and rhetoric according to the recipient or slipping into deliberate vagueness in order to avoid divulging secrets. What emerges from her correspondence is a portrait of extraordinary courage, ability, and shrewdness.
In the sixteenth century, the word letrado (lettered) referred to the learned men of the Church. Teresa treated letrados with great respect and always insisted on her own lack of learning. The irony is that although women could not be letradas, Teresa was, as her correspondence shows, "lettered" in more ways than one.
Published by: Vanderbilt University Press
Table of Contents
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I became fascinated with Saint Teresa when, during a time of personal difficulty, I felt drawn toward The Interior Castle. I had taught early modern Spanish literature for many years, but I had never examined the Castle in depth. I found in Teresa a superb guide whose spiritual wisdom, wit, and down-to-earth common sense ...
Sources and Abbreviations
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Introduction: The Pen and the Sword
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Teresa de Ávila and her followers were tough, determined managerial types who faced obstacles every bit as daunting as the glass ceiling faced by professional women today. The difference is that for women of Teresa’s generation, the glass ceiling was not invisible; it was patent and manifest, ...
1. From Teresa de Ahumada to Saint Teresa
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The woman who spearheaded the movement known as the Carmelite reform was an unlikely hero. Teresa Sánchez Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Ávila in 1515, the daughter of a converso silk and woolens merchant. Conversos, or New Christians, were Jews who had converted to Catholicism, often due to intense pressure from the crown. ...
2. Teresa de Jesus: Woman of Letters
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The wide variety of people with whom Teresa de Ávila corresponded makes her letters a goldmine of information. She takes the time to write a thank-you note to the mother of a novice for a gift of lard and quince jelly (Letters 1, 31 October 1574). With her brothers and sisters she shares gossip and family news. ...
3. God's Warrior and Her Epistolary Weapons
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The fluid nature of Teresa’s letters makes it impossible to classify them thematically. Teresa’s tendency to move from subject to subject creates the impression of spontaneity, even in letters that show clear political purpose. When writing to church officials, Teresa often inquires about their health, comments on her own, ...
4. Correspondence and Correspondents
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Of Saint Teresa’s approximately 450 extant letters, nearly half were directed to four recipients: to Gracián, 95 (21.1%); to María de San José, 62 (13.7%); to Lorenzo de Cepeda and to María Bautista, 18 each (8% total). By examining Teresa’s sustained communication with these four correspondents, ...
5. Letter-Writing as Self-Representation
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Teresa constantly had to vie with men who sought to limit her mobility, recast the reform according to their own visions, or destroy it altogether. Letter-writing enabled her to both claim and exert authority. Lisa Vollendorf argues that for early modern women, writing itself was an assertive act (Lives 60). ...
6. Forging Sainthood: Teresa's Letters as Relics
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Of the thousands of letters that Saint Teresa wrote, only about 230 authenticated autographs remain, some of which are not entirely in Teresa’s hand (Rodríguez Martínez and Egido 51). Illness and exhaustion frequently prevented her from writing her own letters. ...
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For generations, clerics and critics have found Teresa’s down-to-earth epistolary style somewhat embarrassing. The dynamic, multifaceted woman revealed in the epistolary writing is poles apart from the idealized figure promoted by Teresa’s seventeenth-century apologists. ...
Appendix: Seven Letters with Original Translations
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009