The First Edition, With the Engraved Portrait - The Birth of the “Myth” of Sor Juana

Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sor (1648-1695)

Fama, y obras posthumas del Fenix de Mexico, Decima Musa, Poetisa Americana, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, religiosa professa en el convento de San Geronimo de la imperial ciudad de Mexico consagralas a la Magestad Catholica de la Reyna Nuestra Señora Doña Mariana de Neoburg Baviera Palatina del Rhin, por mano de la excma. Señora Doña Juana de Aragon y Cortès … &c. El doctor Don Juan Ignacio de Castorena y Vrsua

Madrid: En la Imprenta de Manuel Ruiz de Murga, 1700


Quarto: 20 x 14.5 cm. [142], 210, [6] p. Complete. Collation: [pi]2 (-pi2), [chi]1 (errata/privilege), a-c4, [par.]4-4[par]4, 5[par]4-6[par.]4, 7[par.]4-10[par.]4, *4-4*4 2[chi]1 (“Advertencia”), portrait, A-Z4, Aa-Dd4. (The errata leaf, here bound after the title, is usually tipped in between 4[par.]4 and 5[par.]1. In this copy [par.]4-4[par]4 are bound after sig.s a-c4, instead of before them.


A fine copy, with the engraved portrait, bound in contemporary vellum, once married to separate printings of Volumes I and II, with “Obras de Sor Juana .3.” on the spine. No sets of Sor Juana’s works were published as such and this first edition of the “Fama” was printed independently. Moreover, Manuel Ruiz de Murga did not print any editions of the other two volumes (nor did he reprint the “Fama”). The text of this copy is crisp and on the whole bright, with some very light toning to scattered signatures. The faults are minor, as outlined here: clean tear in leaves F1 and F4, short worm trail to blank margin in signatures O, X, Y. Discreet paper repair to another trail, only touching (very slightly) letters on three leaves, in the upper outer corner of signatures X-Aa. Leaf S2 lower blank corner with natural paper irregularity, just touching the catchword, small hole in final leaf, no loss, one leaf lightly stained. Title page in red and black, numerous attractive woodcut ornaments in the text. Binding re-cased.

“Sor Juana's earliest works were published individually in Mexico City beginning in 1680. The first collection of her writings was 'Inundación Castalida', published in Madrid by Juan Garcia Infanzon in 1689 and later as 'Poemas de la Unica Poetisa Americana'. With the publication of her writings she quickly gained a following in Spain, South America and Mexico, and became known as the Musa Dezima or Tenth Muse. A second volume, 'Segundo Tomo', was published in Seville in 1692, followed by this third, posthumous volume, 'Fama, y Obras Posthumas, Tomo Tercero, del Fenix de Mexico', published in Madrid in 1700.”(Kirk)

This volume includes works by Sor Juana in a variety of poetic forms, including romances, sonnets, and décimas; as well as numerous prose pieces, one of the most notable being her “Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz”(p.8-60), her defence of the rights of women to study, teach, and write secular and religious texts.

The volume is also a milestone in the construction of the “historical” Sor Juana, or, in the words of Carla Fumagalli “es la piedra fundacional de la consolidación del mito Sor Juana”. It includes a number of works by Sor Juana, among them the aforementioned “Respuesta”, which contain valuable autobiographical details; as well as the earliest biography of Sor Juana, written by her friend, the Jesuit Diego Calleja. The volume also includes a new portrait, engraved for this edition (and used only once) of Sor Juana, the symbolism of which is explained in detail by the volume’s compiler and editor, Juan Ignacio de Castorena y Ursúa, who was also a friend.

“Volume III also includes laudatory verses, including a number by five women, among them one by the nun Doña Catalina de Alfaro Fernández de Cordova (leaf 9¶1recto) on the subject of Sor Juana's remarkable 4,000-volume library, unique for a Mexican nun, that Sor Juana was forced to relinquish and which was subsequently dispersed. Calleja also describes the loss of Sor Juana's library, which he calls her "four-thousand friends" and her "solace", and poignantly describes the sorrow with which she gave them up.”(See Kirk, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and the Gender Politics of Knowledge in Colonial Mexico.)

The Edition: Gathering the Texts:

Born in Zacatecas, Juan Ignacio de Castorena y Ursúa was a friend and defender of Sor Juana, who dedicated a décima to him (p. 165 in this volume). When Sor Juana died in 1695, she left behind a great number of writings, many unpublished. A number of these were brought together by Castorena for this third volume, “Fame and Posthumous Works of the Phoenix of Mexico, the Tenth Muse, the American Poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz”(Madrid, 1700).  In the “Fama”, Castorena tells us that in addition to the works that he brought together for this volume, he knew of other works of which he was unable to acquire copies.

“When Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz died in April 1695, a considerable number of writings were found in her cell. The General Book of Inventories of the Convent of San Jeronimo registers "fifteen bundles of writings, mystical and worldly verses"(quince legajos de escritos, versos misticos y mundanos”) (Castello Yturbide, 177). The contents of those legajos are unknown and may have been lost forever. In 1700 the ecclesiastical Juan Ignacio de Castorena y Ursúa, a friend of the nun, printed in Madrid Fama and posthumous works, a volume that brought together some writings published by Sor Juana in single editions and others that circulated among her contemporaries in handwritten form such as the celebrated ‘Respuesta a sor Filotea’. He also included three personal testimonies of Sor Juana related to her change of life and abandonment of letters (‘Petición causidica’, ‘Protesta de la fe’, and a text in which the nun endorsed her conceptionist vows). Castorena, however, knew that there were more works by Sor Juana that circulated in manuscript copies. In his prologue he mentions some of those that he had news of, but manuscripts of which he could not get, either because he did not know who owned them or because their owners refused to give him a copy…. But not everything that Sor Juana left unpublished was lost; Castorena is particularly proud of having been able to rescue - he does not say how or thanks to whom - what he considers Sor Juana's last poem: a romance of 33 quatrains that the nun wrote in response to the praise of twelve poets and seven theologians that had appeared in the preliminaries of the second volume of her works (Tomo Secondo), printed at Seville in 1692. The poem, according to Castorena, would unfortunately be unfinished; even so, he decided to include it in the ‘Fama y obras’. ”(Francisco Ramirez Santacruz,“El canto de cisne de sor Juana Ines de la Cruz”, in Ehumanista (Vol. 39), May 2018)

The portrait:

Engraved by Joseph Caldevilla and engraved by Clemens Puche (fl. 1699-1728), the fine engraved portrait shows Sor Juana in her habit, holding a book in one hand and a writing plume in the other. The portrait is framed by an elaborate architectural border adorned with emblems, allegorical figures, and the armorial bearings of the patrons of this publication, the queen of Spain and the marquesa del Valle. In a long passage in his introductory text (lvs. **4v-***1r), Castorena explains every element of the symbolic assemblage: books, a globe, Mercury’s caduceus, musical instruments (among them the lyre), twin mountains (one covered with fire, the other with snow), slogans, and the full-length figures that flank the portrait, allegories of Europe and America. Taken together, the likeness of Sor Juana and the imagery that surrounds her reveal Sor Juana’s soul: "el dibujo de su lamina te expresa mas doctamente la fisonomia del alma, que es la viveza del pensamiento, en lo alusivo de sus emblemas.” While Castorena explains that the books, the musical instruments, and the scientific instruments “simbolizan su aplicación a todas artes y ciencias”, they are not merely symbolic of Sor Juana’s varied learning, but also recall the painful, personal loss of her own library and instruments, which she was forced to relinquish in 1692.

This portrait was preceded by another engraving, affixed to the 1692 Seville edition of the “Segundo Tomo” of Sor Juana’s works. Discussing the two portraits, Vanessa Lyon observes that “While little time had passed between them, taken in concert, the prints represent a conceptual and rhetorical sea change between old world Spanish and new world Creole identity constructions via the book arts.” (For the full discussion, see The Routledge Research Companion to the Works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz , ch. 9, “My original, a woman”: Copies, origins, and Sor Juana’s iconic portraits, p. 91 ff.)

Sor Juana:

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695), the first great woman poet of Mexico, was born in a small town in Mexico in 1651 and learned to read Latin before she was six.  Denied admission to the Royal University in Mexico, she was to enter conventual life instead, develop a close friendship with the great colonial Mexican polymath Sigüenza y Góngora (the Cosmographer of New Spain), and write and publish the finest known poetry of the Spanish colonial empire in the period to 1821.

Sor Juana was a combination sonneteer, lyric poet, essayist, and playwright, and though she spent much of her adulthood in a convent, the majority of her writings were secular in nature; she wrote on subjects courtly, philosophical, amorous, satirical, mythological, as well as sacred. She invented a decasyllabic meter and cultivated dramatic poetry. Among her works are sonnets, redondillas, décimas, villancicos, and plays, as well as prose works, including the famous Carta athenagorica in which she criticizes the great Luso-Brazilian preacher and defender of the Brazilian Indians, Antônio Vieira.

Medina, J.T. Biblioteca hispano-americana (1493-1810), 2013; Henríquez Ureña, P. Bibliografía de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 30; Palau y Dulcet, A. Manual del librero hispano-americano (2. ed.), 65226; Bibliotheca Americana: catalogue of the John Carter Brown Library in Brown University, books printed 1675-1700, p.416; European Americana 700/149