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SOR ISABEL DE VILLENA, HER VITA CHRISTI AND AN EXAMPLE OF GENDERED IMMACULIST WRITING IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY Lesley K. Twomey Northumbria University Sor Isabel de Villena (1430-1490) is one of the few Hispanic fifteenth -century female authors whose work has survived to modern times (Deyermond 1978, 1983, 1995; Garrido 1997; López Estrada 1986; Luna 1995; Whetnall 1984, 1992-3). Martí de Riquer recognizes the uniqueness of Isabel de Villena in his overview of Catalan prose, when he categorizes her as: "l'unica figura femenina important de la literatura catalana medieval" (1972, 70). Lola Luna, in her historical study of female authorship, poses the question as to whether this uniqueness is due to systematic male elimination of other female writers or whether women lacked die necessary flunking to enable diem to write (1995, 127). But Rosanna Cantavella and Llu'isa Parra, in flieir introduction to a partial edition of the Vita Christi, underline the attractiveness of a book written by an abbess, prepared for printing by her successor, made public at die request of a queen, and whose subject matter is largely the female characters of the Gospels (1987, vii). Whatever die reason for the uniqueness attributed by critics to the Vita Christi, it provides a supreme example of gendered literature in the fifteenth century. Sor Isabel, Franciscan abbess of the Santa Trinitat convent in Valencia and illegitimate daughter of the noble Villena family, was a court-educated woman with royal connections. She entered the convent at 15 and at 33 was elected abbess. Eileen Power's contention that convents "offered to the main body of nuns opportunities for education , organization and responsibility, not easy for women to find elsewhere " (Power 1975, 90) in the case of Sor Isabel is borne out to the La corónica 32.1 (Fall, 2003): 89-103 90Lesley K. TxvomeyLa corónica 32.1, 2003 full in whose convent die sisters "crearon un espacio propio" (García delaHerrán 1995, 183). After surveying the virulent antifeminist current in die Valencia of Isabel's day, I will examine the purpose of die Vita Christi, as set out on Sor Isabel's behalf by her successor, and dien Sor Isabel's purpose in writing, taking as examples her treatment of the conception and birth of the Virgin Mary in the early chapters of the Vita Christi. Sor Isabel's presentation ofsuch events shows how she deals with the subject ofthe Immaculate Conception and how she intended to mould the world of her readership through her version of events. Sor Isabel's Purpose in Writing Most critics consider die Vita Christi to be a response to the antifeminism rife in contemporary Valencia. Alberto-Guillem Hauf i Vails (1995), in his edition of die Vita, refers to die concept diat Sor Isabel wrote in response to the diatribe against women rife in Valencia. A particular connection between the enclosed world of die nuns and die antifeminist diatribes contained in die Espili or Llibre de les dones, written by Isabel's contemporaryJaume Roig, an eminent doctor in Valencia, is that Roig was a benefactor of the convent, since his daughter was professed there as a nun. Marti de Riquer also refers to the misogynist diatribe specifically directed at religious women in the Espili, noting die connection between Roig and the sisters of Santa Trinitat (1972, 71). In his view, this connection might explain "algunes notes féministes que es troben a la Vita Christi" (1972, 71). Cantavella and Parra also postulate that Sor Isabel could have intervened in the "debat pro i antifeminista" (1987, xxi). Cantavella reiterates the fact that Sor Isabel wished to promote the pro-feminist cause in her Vita (2000, 50). She considers bodi Isabel de Villena and Christine de Pisan to be female writers who sought tojustify fheir own status as women authors (2003, 45). Women writers in the late medieval period had to contend with die injunction from St. Paul, developed by die doctors of the Church, that women should keep silent (Timothy 2:13). Its impact on cloistered aufhors has been drawn out by Surtz and Seidenspinner-Núñez among others (Surtz 1995, 5; Seidenspinner-Núñez 1998, 18-19; Lozano...


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