For many years Teresa de Ávila’s Libro de la vida
was considered an exceptional work of literature, in both senses of the word “exceptional”. The work of Isabelle Poutrin, Francisco Durán López and others has made us question one of these meanings: no one doubts Teresa’s great literary value, but we now know that hers is one of hundreds (if not more) spiritual autobiographies/diaries kept by early modern Spanish women (and a few men as well). None of these lesser known vidas
are as comprehensive or polished as Teresa’s Vida
, and many are fragmentary and even incoherent. Insofar as these partial accounts of spiritual graces have been studied or translated, they are often excerpted, paraphrased, or translated in such a way as to make them more legible than, I argue, they really are. I propose then to consider how we might integrate these failed (in the sense that their authors’ spiritual narratives were never deemed models for others), fragmentary, incomplete, and incoherent narratives into the study of the “spiritual autobiography”. This chapter will examine a selection of such autobiographies to make the argument that, by examining a more complete corpus of spiritual autobiographies, and not just the most polished and successful ones, we get a different and fuller picture of the possibilities and limits of women’s self-fashioning through language in the early modern period.
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