Perfect Wives, Other Women

Adultery and Inquisition in Early Modern Spain

Perfect Wives, Other Women

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 1 illustration Published: February 2001

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies

In Perfect Wives, Other Women Georgina Dopico Black examines the role played by women’s bodies—specifically the bodies of wives—in Spain and Spanish America during the Inquisition. In her quest to show how both the body and soul of the married woman became the site of anxious inquiry, Dopico Black mines a variety of Golden Age texts for instances in which the era’s persistent preoccupation with racial, religious, and cultural otherness was reflected in the depiction of women.
Subject to the scrutiny of a remarkable array of gazes—inquisitors, theologians, religious reformers, confessors, poets, playwrights, and, not least among them, husbands—the bodies of perfect and imperfect wives elicited diverse readings. Dopico Black reveals how imperialism, the Inquisition, inflation, and economic decline each contributed to a correspondence between the meanings of these human bodies and “other” bodies, such as those of the Jew, the Moor, the Lutheran, the degenerate, and whoever else departed from a recognized norm. The body of the wife, in other words, became associated with categories separate from anatomy, reflecting the particular hermeneutics employed during the Inquisition regarding the surveillance of otherness.
Dopico Black’s compelling argument will engage students of Spanish and Spanish American history and literature, gender studies, women’s studies, social psychology and cultural studies.


“[S]upple, theoretically astute prose . . . .” — Sara T. Nalle , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Throughout this fascinating book, Georgina Dopico Black elegantly articulates and outlines the complicated questions, connections, cruxes, and cross-sections involved in proving her theses. . . . The book is clearly written, the result of clear thinking. The author’s reiterations and clarifications guide the reader through her arguments, highlighting the connections between her points, and clarifying the premises that serve as the basis of her discussion, so that readers who not enjoy complete familiarity with the texts of the contexts should be able to make good use of this book, one which should be on everyone’s ‘must read’ list.” — Susan Paun de García , Cervantes

"Perfect Wives, Other Women is a theoretically engaged, highly original study. . . . [It] will obviously be of interest to scholars of early modern Spain and colonial Latin America. But, precisely because of its broad scope and theoretical depth, it will also prove invaluable to a wide variety of readers including feminist critics, performance theorists, and scholars interested in questions of gender and ethnicity." — Bruce R. Burningham , Renaissance and Reformation

"[A] theoretically sophisticated and engaging work. . . . [Dopico Black's] arguments will provoke discussion among both literary critics and historians of marriage. . . . Perfect Wives, Other Women liberates its literary sources from the traditional Renaissance-Baroque progression and offers a sensitive examination of their role in the contemporary culture of the early modern Hispanic world." — Benjamin Ehlers , Colonial Latin American Review

"[An] ambitious and theoretically sophisticated study. . . . Dopico Black’s book is a complex and productive study. . . . It is an excellent addition to feminist and cultural studies in Spanish early modern criticism." — Rosilie Hernández Pecoraro , Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies

"[Dopico] Black presents intriguing potential alternatives to entrenched notions regarding two significant literary genres. . . . [H]er insights can productively inform the work of social historians interested in gender-related discourse of the early modern period." — Margaret Franklin , Sixteenth Century Journal

"[P]rovocative. . . .There is creativity and originality in Black's arguments and elegance in her formal analyses. . . . Black's insights into the problems of illegibility and the ways in which early modern Iberian authors reflected them in their texts are thought provoking and a genuine contribution to the field of Spanish literary studies." — Abigail Dyer , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"Black makes use of three texts. . . . Each of these works benefits individually from Black’s critical reading. Yet the real brilliance of this book comes from the comparative analysis that Black provides. . . ." — Gretchen D. Starr-Lebeau , Hispanic American Historical Review

"Perfect Wives, Other Women creates new visions and revisions of canonical literary texts from Spain to the Americas. These readings will certainly establish a new body of criticism that will help us to better understand the tensions between authority and Otherness, between the somatics of interpretation and the semiotics of the body." — Frederick A. de Armas, Modern Philology

"Perfect Wives, Other Women offers valuable theoretical insights into early modern Spanish interpretive frameworks. . . ." — Christian Berco , Canadian Journal of History

"The high level of abstraction and extraction in her analyses pairs well with baroque tropes of confusion and plurality, to which she points convincingly. . . . The book is best reserved for those whose taste for cultural theory can appreciate highly wrought readings, complemented by a fine bibliography and explicated in thoughtful, complete notes." — Elizabeth Rhodes , Catholic Historical Review

Perfect Wives, Other Women is a theoretically informed and elegantly conceived study that combines sharp focus and broad scope. A superb work.” — James D. Fernández, author of Apology to Apostrophe: Autobiography and the Rhetoric of Self-Representation in Spain

“Perfect Wives, Other Women is a remarkable and brilliant work. Ample in scope, lucidly and vividly argued, it traces the taut histories that link the figure of the wife with the languages and institutions of inquisition in the literary, legal, and religious cultures of early modern Spain. It is indispensable reading not just for students of Spain´s Golden Age, but also for those interested in the articulation of institutional cultures and the somatic imaginary in early modern European culture more broadly.” — Jacques Lezra, University of Wisconsin, Madison


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Georgina Dopico Black is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Visible Signs: Reading the Wife’s Body in Early Modern Spain

2. “Pasos de un peregrino”: Luis de León Reads the Perfect Wife

3. The Perfected Wife: Signs of Adultery and the Adultery of Signs in Calderón’s El médico de su honra

4. Sor Juana’s Empeños: The Imperfect Wife

Conclusion: Como anillo al dedo



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Co-winner, MLA Katherine Singer Kovacs Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2642-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2650-2
Publicity material