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Teresa de Jesús in “Book of Life”

Biographers and contemporaries describe Teresa as a very sociable, open, and intelligent person who was energetic and passionate in her actions. Following extreme mysticism in her religious works, she always had a good idea of the practical side of life (Weber 171). Perhaps, that is why she thought that in an ideal community, worldly and transient things would have no value (Rowe 584). These features of her character manifested in the episodes from her childhood, which she described in the excerpts from the first two chapters of the Book of Life.

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The Book of Life is one of the most remarkable examples of early Western European autobiography, comparable in its sincerity and expressiveness to Augustine’s Confessions (which became a model for Teresa) and Benvenuto Cellini’s Biography. The structure of the composition is heterogeneous. It consists of 40 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue (Teresa de Jesus). In the first ten chapters, in accordance with the laws of the genre, she narrates the events of her life and inner experiences. In her writings, Teresa takes into account the peculiarities of female psychology and the position of women in Castilian society in the 16th century, trying to combine the immediacy of religious experience with freedom of the spirit (Ahlgren 2). In fact, she highly appreciated a woman as a socially and intellectually significant figure who has both the right and the opportunity to participate in life on an equal basis with a man. However, she could not state this directly, given the masculine order, and expressed the latter idea through the description of her virtuous and independent activities.

In an Introduction to Teresa de Jesús, Cristina Morales narrates what could be if Teresa had a more intimate diary. In comparison with the Book of Life, Teresa is more direct in expressing herself – even regarding things that do not align with her religion. Introduction to Teresa de Jesús is written in a more narrowed scope – the diary is focused on the more precise depiction of Teresa’s affairs, spaces in which she existed, and she appeals directly to God in her narration. In the Book of Life, the speeches of Teresa are more didactic and addressed to a solely religious audience (Mujica 746). In turn, Morales shows Teresa trying to recall her past life and explain herself as a human being (24). She depicts Teresa who is not afraid of telling everything that happens to her body and personality (Morales 55). Hence, Introduction to Teresa de Jesús is addressed to the modern audience that can percept the idea of Teresa’s independence, intelligence, and strength through her monologues.

The Book of Life and Introduction to Teresa de Jesús is written in a different tone. The latter seems to express the relevant agenda of feminism through the lens of a significant historical person. However, it is not descriptive research on Teresa’s work but her character’s recreation from a different angle. The readers are able to see the world in which Teresa existed and created as it was – with an emphasis on how women’s art was tolerated. Morales allows understanding of the fact that Teresa’s autobiography was written and published as something great and essential. Thus, in the novel Introduction to Teresa de Jesús, Teresa’s figure is reinterpreted in a spirit of freedom and feminism. This is a notable piece of art about a strong woman who is not afraid of her obligations and religious burden. The result is a promising rethinking of a significant person that exists in the pages of the Book of Life.

References

Ahlgren, Gillian. Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity. Cornell University Press. n.d.

Morales, Cristina. Introducción a Teresa de Jesús. Anagrama, 2015.

Mujica, Barbara. “Beyond Image: The Apophatic-Kataphatic Dialectic in Teresa de Avila.” Hispania, vol. 84, no. 4, 2001, pp. 741–748.

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Rowe, Erin. “The Spanish Minerva: Imagining Teresa of Avila as Patron Saint in Seventeenth-Century Spain.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 92, no. 4, 2006, pp. 574–596.

Teresa de Jesus, Santa. Libro de la Vida. n.d. Web.

Weber, Alison. “Saint Teresa, Demonologist.” Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain, edited by Annie Cruz and Mary Perry, University of Minnesota Press, 1992, pp. 171–196.

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