Claudia H. Long Interview
September 21, 2011
the author of Josefina's Sin
We were fortunate to interview Claudia H. Long on Septemer 21, 2011. A key character in her novel Josefina's Sin is Sor Juana, a seventeenth-century Mexican nun and poet.
How did you discover Sor Juana?
Sor Juana is one of Mexico's most famous poets! Mexico considers her work a national treasure. I did my thesis as an undergrad on "The Feminism of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz" because I was fascinated with this brave woman who wrote poetry and believed, in the 1690's, that women should be educated.
Did the real Sor Juana attend court parties like those described in your novel?
Yes. It depended on the order of nuns - the first convent she joined, the Discalced Carmelites, was so rigorous that she returned home three months later, exhausted and ill. But the order she later joined allowed for the sisters to write, offer music, and be part of the grand society of the vice-royalty of the time.
While many nuns nursed the sick or fed the poor, some convents had some very licentious goings on, in Europe as well. Remember Shakespeare's "Get thee to a nunnery"? That was slang for a brothel!
The actual parties in the story, of course, are fiction, but in reading between the lines of Sor Juana's poetry, you can easily see that she was witness to plenty of amorous intrigue!
Josefina is an innocent exploited or betrayed by every man who claims to love her. How realistic a portrait do you think her story offers of a woman of her time, place and class?
Let's start with the second part of your question. How realistic is Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives?
This is fiction. While each event is realistically placed within the context of her time, class and history, most people then, like most people now, led much more mundane lives. Fiction deals with the disruption of the status quo, events outside expectations.
As to Josefina being exploited and betrayed, she begins as an innocent, but she has hidden desires. She breaks the mold of devoted and domestic wife to satisfy her deep yearning for more than her quiet home can give her. She breaks her vows, loving the Bishop. She returns to Court to write, in defiance of convention.
Men are far more often permitted "extracurricular" relationships. After all, they don't get pregnant! In Josefina's time, the Moorish influence on Spain was still considerable. Their women were veiled and cloistered, but the men moved about freely in society. Think of society's premium placed on virginity: female virginity. Manuel's transgressions are believable in the context of the time, as are Josefina's limitations. His love for her triumphs in the end, and Josefina is strengthened by her ordeals.
Review of Josefina's Sin by Claudia H. Long
See listing for Josefina's Sin at Powell's Books
See listing for Josefina's Sin at Amazon.com
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