A country wife is ensnared by court intrigue and sexual imbroglios in 17th-century Mexico.
When Josefina, wife of prosperous landowner Manuel, is called to the court of the Marquesa and Marqués of Condera, the cream of Mexico’s colonial ruling class, at first she welcomes the chance to sate her intellectual curiosity in the Marquesa’s capacious library, studying with famed poetess-nun Sor Juana. However, upon arrival at court with her beautiful and wealthy friend Angélica, Josefina, who has just learned she is pregnant, is almost immediately targeted by the Marqués, an ill-favored rake who owes his title to his aristocratic wife, as his next conquest. When Josefina resists his lewd advances, his determination increases. Meanwhile, her childhood tutor, Father Alonso, a priest whom she’s always loved from afar, is now, as Bishop of Puebla, an honored guest of the Marquesa. The attraction between matron and priest immediately flames into forbidden lust, which both hasten to indulge without, technically speaking, violating Alonso’s vow of celibacy. When the Marqués’ threats drive her away, she returns to Manuel’s hacienda; however after Josefina suffers a mild stroke, brought on by Manuel’s over-exuberant overtures, their child is stillborn. Angélica, temporarily banished by the Marquesa, satisfies Manuel’s conjugal needs while Josefina is laid up. Improbably, Josefina returns to court—apparently the lure of the Bishop outweighs the menace of the Marqués. Once again, she becomes pregnant, this time by Alonso. If she is not to incur ruin, she must somehow entice her husband back into her bed. The Marqués, with the help of Inquisition thugs, puts Josefina in an even more compromising position, as she attempts to hide Sor Juana’s heretical writings. Although portrayed as a spunky and intelligent woman, Josefina’s dispassionate internal commentary on her own perils at the hands of lechers, whether holy and not, borders on prurient.Although inspired by the historical Sor Juana, whose crusade for the education of women antagonized the Church, this novel has less lofty aspirations.