Conclusion – Navarre Book History

I’ve finally reach the end of this project, or rather this stage of the project since I will be continuing my research into senior year as an honors thesis. It has been a challenging, but engaging process. I made it through 5 hours a day of transcription for 4 weeks in Spain, one week at London Rare Books School, and the several weeks of work processing my data, reading relevant articles and books, creating the website, and now writing a paper specifically about women and books. There are a few things that I’ve learned through the process.

The first is that transcription is hard work. I knew that already from my week of research in the Spring, but it really hits you after four weeks straight. I had gone into the project thinking that I would be ready to read for several hours in the afternoon, but transcription requires five straight hours of complete concentration. I was exhausted each day and took advantage of the Spanish siesta time. I made up for that time at the end of the project when I was working on the project for 10-12 hours each day.

The second is that I’ve definitely picked the right field of research. I don’t think anyone could subject themselves to identifying 3,100 individual titles of books over 3 weeks unless they liked it. In addition, every single article or book chapter that I read was interesting to me. While I do love my linguistics and Hispanic Studies classes, it’s definitely not usually the case that I’m happy to read everything I’m assigned! I hope my enthusiasm carries over to my thesis.

The third is that I did research that is important to the field of book history. Several of the articles that I read stated that it was important for more post mortem inventories of libraries to be transcribed and published. For my project, I transcribed and published online 35 inventories. Two of them do appear in other publications, and I will be checking my transcription against theirs, but the other individuals, especially the women, are unknown. I’ll be working in the future to edit my transcriptions to make them more readable, but for the moment they are actually out there for other people to use. This was the whole impetus behind the website-to make the data collected in my research freely available to others because to me, that’s the point of scholarship. Everyone should be sharing their work with everyone else (as long as the users properly give credit where credit is due!) so that the field can move forward.
I think how I have set up my website makes it easy for anyone, novice or expert, to explore the data and learn more about book history in Navarre. If you haven’t taken a look at the website yet, it’s

Finally, I’d like to talk a little bit about what I am writing my essay about. The point of the paper was to have an analytical portion of the project since the website is more descriptive. Since my thesis will cover all of the inventories, this paper focuses exclusively on the women that appear in the 35 inventories. These are: Ana de Sarasa, the widow of a lawyer; Mariana Vicenta de Echeverri, the Countess of Villalcazar and Marchioness of Villarubia; Sor Maria, and Antonia Jimenez. For Ana (28 books) and Mariana Vicenta (500+ books), I have their full inventories. Sor Maria and Antonia are special cases because I have no inventory for them, but they appear in the inventories of two of the men. Antonia Jimenez is the daughter and heir of the lawyer Martín Jiménez and Sor Maria is a friend of Miguel Lanzarot de Gazolaz. Antonia inherited two books out of her father’s collection which is noted in the inventory while Miguel Lanzarot mentions in his will that a volume by Luis de Granada owned by Sor Maria should be returned to her because he had borrowed it, and that she should choose two of any of the books in his collection for her own.

For this paper, I chose to analyze the texts contemporary to the inventories that talked about the relationship of women with reading. These are Juan Luis Vives, Luis de León, and Juan de la Cerda. Their comments on women and reading are part of texts designed to expound the “proper” role of women in society. They are guides to becoming a virtuous woman, spouse, and/or widow. As far as women and literacy go, there are two major debates between these authors: 1) should women be allowed to read and write and 2) if they are allowed to read and write, what kinds of texts should they be reading and which ones should they avoid. Most of these authors agree that women should be allowed to read, and should read because it can be useful to their moral development. Luis de Leon is a bit less enthusiastic about reading, because the only mention of it in his La perfecta casada is to criticize women reading “libros de caballerias” (chivalric tales). Vives and Cerda emphasize the good that reading can do for women who, according to the beliefs of the time, were biologically and morally inferior to men. In a sense, one could say they recommended reading because women needed all the help they could get to become virtuous, the key factor for judging any person during that time. Vives believes writing can also contribute in a positive manner to feminine development while Cerda seems to think that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. It can be good or bad in the hands of a woman and so he leaves the decision of whether a young woman should be taught to write in the hands of her mother.

On the subject of the types of books women should read, they are all in agreement. Absolutely no libros de caballerías allowed because they will infect the minds of women. Women (and less intellectually gifted men) are described as believing everything that they read, and they cannot tell right from wrong when they read tales or other literature for pleasure. I argue that they are afraid that the moral system in these books, if read by women, will supplant the moral system of the Catholic Church, which is the one that should be instilled by reading and writing. This is why they recommend women to read religious works and works of moral philosophy because it will contribute to the moral formation of women. We can see that the only rule for deciding which activities are appropriate for women is whether they contribute to their development of virtue. I also argue that these writers create a canon of works that is imposed on women.

The real question is then, did women actually pay attention to these moralistic works and the canon espoused by them? The Inquisition certainly did, because they banned most anonymous religious works to prevent dubious religious materials from appearing on the market. On a more personal level, male relatives and confessors would choose books for women. On the other hand, Vives himself admits that fathers and husbands are still letting their daughters and wives read libros de caballerías, so the canon cannot be completely accepted. I’m using my inventories to judge whether these women did or did not accept the canon.

My initial conclusion is that yes, women did mostly buy books having to do with religion, but they certainly didn’t stop buying other types of books like literature or poetry. Both Ana and Mariana Vicenta have copies of La araucana, an epic poem on the conquest of Chile. One of Antonia Jimenez’ books is a story about Charlemagne. As far as male relatives go, Ana in particular seems quite independent. She married in 1584 and then was widowed about three years later and most of her books seem to be from after she was widowed meaning that she is likely to have had complete control over her book choices. I also suspect that she sold most of her husband’s library, because as a lawyer he would have had many law books. There are a few summaries of laws, but that’s it. It’s a bit hard to determine which books specifically belong to Mariana Vicenta because the inventory is really of the family’s library. Her father and other relatives lead expeditions to the New World and so a large part of the library is on navigation and all things nautical. However, I have been able to identify some books down to the specific editions, which allows me to place some of the books between 1675 and 1684, the years that she was widowed. It is also unclear for Mariana Vicenta how much control her father and husband exerted over her reading.

Thanks for reading and following this journey.

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