- The Routledge Research Companion to Early Modern Spanish Women Writers eds. by Nieves Baranda and Anne J. Cruz
Recent essay collections on Spanish Early Modern women writers have heralded the field's further development and the new Routledge compilation may be the strongest exemplar yet. Anne Cruz and Nieves Baranda tally our growing knowledge and the efforts to expand its frontiers, and the essays, encompassing a variety of genres, reveal that the wisely chosen contributors have distilled their extensive expertise in order to present a "state of the question" and future considerations, an implicit invitation to another generation as well as a renewed declaration that Early Modern Spanish women form part of the larger panorama. The handbook yields sufficient diamonds in the rough to propel many a career as well as to expand significantly our understanding of the roles women played as part of the intricate cultural and political texture of Spain's Early Modern period.
Familiar and less-familiar writers appear throughout the distinct essays which confirm that the period's genre boundaries were fungible. The volume's self-referentiality—the individual bibliographies frequently incorporate citations found in companion pieces—marks the interconnectivity of this endeavor. The audience for this Research Companion reaches beyond students and scholars of the Early Modern period; English translations and summaries facilitate this expansive approach and a Spanish version of the volume has appeared recently in Editorial UNED. This guidebook, designed to be read selectively, is divided into 6 sections with a total of 22 chapters; within a review's limitations I summarize each section and suggest how its constituent chapters contribute to the whole. Obviously I cannot speak in-depth to all the essays, but no author should feel slighted.
Section 1, "Women's Worlds," casts a contextual net. Grace Coolidge's "Aristocracy and the Urban Elite" concisely reviews fluid gender roles for [End Page 135] women in elite and noble families where they constituted an important economic, domestic, and political force in daily life. Anne J. Cruz, in "Women's Education in Early Modern Spain," considers the period's social, cultural and economic changes when attempting to discern the nature of women's education. Library inventories inform us that wealthy and noble women had access to a wide range of materials. The step to texts themselves concerns Emily Francomano's "The Early Modern Foundations of the Querella de las mujeres" which were to flourish in the works of María de Zayas and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Woman as author in this genre finds its foundation in Teresa de Cartagena. Francomano notes how these texts "all respond to the misalignments between gender orthodoxy and experience" (54).
The second section, "Conventual Spaces," moves from the internal in Isabelle Poutrin's "Autobiographies," which she calls "ego-documents" as they were requested by confessors for a sister's potential canonization; to outward projection of chronicles and hagiographies (exploration and excavation of female authorship often buried through imposed anonymity) by Mercedes Marcos Sánchez, who sees chronicles and biographies as a "collective work of authorship" (77); to interpersonal relations (which are also political) in "Conventual Correspondence" by María Leticia Sánchez Hernández and Nieves Baranda Leturio, who see in these letters the potential to reconsider social and political relationships; to the external—"Convent Theater" by María del Carmen Alarcón Román—performed for the cloistered but also select "outsiders" (nobility) and written with a similar rhetoric as in letters. The section closes with Stacy Schlau, in "Body, Spirit, and Verse: Reading Early Modern Women's Religious Poetry," who presents a "holistic" overview (115), speaks to "external" purposes of the poetry, and expresses a positive outlook with the discovery of new manuscripts, ongoing archival work, and online databases (such as the phenomenal BIESES).
Four parallel essays constitute Section III, "Secular Literature"; María Dolores Martos Pérez ("The Poetic Voice"), Inmaculada Osuna Rodríguez, ("Literary Academies...