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Lieutenant Nun

Catalina de Erauso

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full title ·  Memoir of a Basque Lieutenant Nun: Transvestite in the New World

author · Catalina de Erauso

type of work · Memoir

genre · Memoir, historical nonfiction, Spanish picaresque

language · Translated from Spanish by Michele Stepto and Gabriel Stepto

time and place written · Between 1626 and 1630, location unknown

date of first publication · 1829, by Joaquín de Ferrer, as Historia de la Monja Alférez Doña Catalina de Erauso, escrita por ella misma, or “The Story of the Lieutenant Nun Doña Catalina de Erauso, written by herself”

publisher · Beacon Press

narrator · Catalina de Erauso

point of view · Catalina writes in the first person.

tone · Catalina’s memoir is written after Catalina is publicly acknowledged as a celebrity, and the tone of her story is boastful bravado.

tense · Simple past

setting (time) · 1585–1626

setting (place) · Catalina’s hometown, San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain, and the New World, including areas of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. She later returns to Europe and visits Rome and Naples, as well as returning to Spain.

protagonist · Catalina

major conflict · Catalina struggles to keep her disguise as a man a secret, while at the same time evading the law.

rising action · As Catalina grows older, her violent behavior becomes more and more pronounced, as do her brushes with lawlessness.

climax · Catalina is being chased relentlessly by the law, and after nearly being killed in a battle with the Cid, she confesses to a bishop that she is really a woman.

falling action · Catalina is given an examination that confirms that she is not only a woman but also a virgin. She is sent to a number of convents for more than two years while the Church confirms that she never took her vows as a nun. She is then free to go, whereupon she receives permission from the Pope to continue dressing as a man.

themes · The creation of masculinity; the importance of a relationship with God; the power of disguise

motifs · Picaresque-style memoir; impermanence; violence

symbols · Churches; clothing

foreshadowing · Catalina writes that she tells a priest “all about herself,” foreshadowing her confession to the bishop about the truth of her biological gender.

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