Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born in the small village of San Miguel Nepantla, New Spain (now in Mexico), probably in November, 1648. Although a biography by the Jesuit Diego Calleja lists the date as November 12, 1651, many scholars believe that a baptismal record from her parish dated December 2, 1648, is hers. Her parents, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje and Isabel Ramírez de Santillana, were not officially married, and her father left the household when she was very young. Her writings hardly mention him.
Juana Inés was one of six children, and she was reared by her maternal grandfather at his country home. His library fascinated her. By the age of three she learned to read and by six or seven expressed her desire to go to the university in Mexico City. At the age of eight she composed a dramatic poem to the Eucharist, using the poetic style of the seventeenth century. Her able mind allowed her to learn Latin on her own after only about twenty lessons. This established a pattern of independent learning that was to continue throughout her life.
When she was sixteen, Juana Inés went to the viceroy’s court as a lady in the service of the vicereine, Marquesa de Mancera. The two apparently became good friends; they shared a love of the intellectual life. A young woman of Juana Inés’s social position had no opportunity for marriage, however, and she had no wish to marry. Her desire to continue studying helped persuade her to enter a convent. In 1667, she entered the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites, but the order was too severe for her. A year later, she found her place in the Order of Saint Jerome and on February 24, 1669, officially became Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (krews).
The regulations of her religious order were not especially strict, although...
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