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

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Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1996 One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1996 One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became a gambler, and even mistakenly killed her own brother in a duel. During her lifetime she emerged as the adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world. This delightful translation of Catalina's own work introduces a new audience to her audacious escapades. From the "Introduction" by translator Michele Stepto: "Sometime between 1626 and 1630 -- that is, between the visit to Naples, which concludes her memoir, and her return to the Americas -- she wrote down in manuscript or dictated to an amanuensis an account of her life." The "Translator's Note" further explains: "Only the Muñoz and Ferrer copies of the original manuscript now exist. The present translation into English is based largely on a 1918 edition of Ferrer's Historia [de la Monja Alférez Doña Catalina de Erauso, escrita por ella misma (1829)], though we have also consulted Muñoz's Vida y sucesos [de la Monja Alférez...Escrita por ella misma (1784)], recently made available in an excellent edition edited by Rima de Vallbona.


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Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1996 One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became Named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1996 One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became a gambler, and even mistakenly killed her own brother in a duel. During her lifetime she emerged as the adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world. This delightful translation of Catalina's own work introduces a new audience to her audacious escapades. From the "Introduction" by translator Michele Stepto: "Sometime between 1626 and 1630 -- that is, between the visit to Naples, which concludes her memoir, and her return to the Americas -- she wrote down in manuscript or dictated to an amanuensis an account of her life." The "Translator's Note" further explains: "Only the Muñoz and Ferrer copies of the original manuscript now exist. The present translation into English is based largely on a 1918 edition of Ferrer's Historia [de la Monja Alférez Doña Catalina de Erauso, escrita por ella misma (1829)], though we have also consulted Muñoz's Vida y sucesos [de la Monja Alférez...Escrita por ella misma (1784)], recently made available in an excellent edition edited by Rima de Vallbona.

30 review for Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nicole aka FromReading2Dreaming

    This was an interesting book, as it details the one of the first autobiographies from a female. And one that cross dresses no less. It was a fast read and enjoyable, if you can over look all the murder. I personally do not think Catalina is a good role model, but her story is intriguing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stacia

    While a woman dressing as a man is nothing new in the annals of history, reading this straighforward, picaresque autobiography is something fairly different. My Spanish bil confirmed for me that Catalina is indeed a Spanish (folk)hero. Reading of her exploits & adventures provided a fascinating glimpse into her life as a man in the new world, outlining her exploits as a gambler, soldier, and adventurer. Catalina got into enough scrapes that she often relied on the sanctuary of the Church for pro While a woman dressing as a man is nothing new in the annals of history, reading this straighforward, picaresque autobiography is something fairly different. My Spanish bil confirmed for me that Catalina is indeed a Spanish (folk)hero. Reading of her exploits & adventures provided a fascinating glimpse into her life as a man in the new world, outlining her exploits as a gambler, soldier, and adventurer. Catalina got into enough scrapes that she often relied on the sanctuary of the Church for protection; later in her life, after confessing her true identity, the Church accepted her & the pope gave her a special dispensation to continue dressing as a man. A unique view of a Spanish hero/heroine. Worth a read, especially for the historical value. FYI, here is a different translation than the one I read, freely available online: http://mith.umd.edu//eada/html/displa...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cassy

    this was an interesting and really quick read. i spent more time reading the introductory and translator's notes than the actual memoir because of how quickly the memoir both read and moved along. now whether most of the memoir is actually factual versus fabricated is a whole other topic but i found it to be interesting nevertheless. i read this as my first reading for my chicana lesbian literature class which is interesting bc 1. it is not a piece of chicana literature 2. it can not be confirme this was an interesting and really quick read. i spent more time reading the introductory and translator's notes than the actual memoir because of how quickly the memoir both read and moved along. now whether most of the memoir is actually factual versus fabricated is a whole other topic but i found it to be interesting nevertheless. i read this as my first reading for my chicana lesbian literature class which is interesting bc 1. it is not a piece of chicana literature 2. it can not be confirmed that erauso is even a lesbian. in fact their identity is the subject of much debate so i'm interested to see how my professor will tie this into our course objectives hm

  4. 5 out of 5

    MM

    Viva la Monja Alférez! This is the story of Catalina de Erauso, a 16th-17th Century "transvestite nun." It's her short autobiography -- first a nun in the Basque region of Spain in the late 1500s, she donned men's clothing and escaped. She passed as male in Spain, working here and there, and then left for colonial travels to South America (Peru mostly, and Chile). There she soldiered, dueled, killed, and adventured. She eventually confessed her transgressions and became legendary. Although the p Viva la Monja Alférez! This is the story of Catalina de Erauso, a 16th-17th Century "transvestite nun." It's her short autobiography -- first a nun in the Basque region of Spain in the late 1500s, she donned men's clothing and escaped. She passed as male in Spain, working here and there, and then left for colonial travels to South America (Peru mostly, and Chile). There she soldiered, dueled, killed, and adventured. She eventually confessed her transgressions and became legendary. Although the prose is not that interesting (and not at all lurid), the story is fascinating.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I read this for a class I am TAing--- it is actually quite dull, no emotion whatsover... it is basically a very long winded timeline.

  6. 4 out of 5

    M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews

    Definitely an interesting read, but given its age, the language can be a bit hard to work through at times. But it was definitely an excellent choice for my Women's History class. Definitely an interesting read, but given its age, the language can be a bit hard to work through at times. But it was definitely an excellent choice for my Women's History class.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Septimus Brown

    The oldest known autobiography of a woman, and at that, a woman living her life as a man. The question remains: was la Monja Alférez cross-dressing for freedom, or was she transgender? Maybe irrelevant, and certainly unanswerable. This picaresque account is so over the top as to be funny. The Lieutenant Nun's story is one of masculine parody. Her bravado is limitless: gambling, murdering, spurning offers of marriage at every turn. Anyone not trying to kill her is enthralled by her. She is always The oldest known autobiography of a woman, and at that, a woman living her life as a man. The question remains: was la Monja Alférez cross-dressing for freedom, or was she transgender? Maybe irrelevant, and certainly unanswerable. This picaresque account is so over the top as to be funny. The Lieutenant Nun's story is one of masculine parody. Her bravado is limitless: gambling, murdering, spurning offers of marriage at every turn. Anyone not trying to kill her is enthralled by her. She is always the last one standing, always coming into amazing wealth and then squandering it all. At first the story is amazing, and I'm sure much of it actually happened, but the narrative snowballs into silliness. She remains a Spanish folk legend after all, and she was a celebrity in her time (there was even a play made about her while she was still alive), but.... there's no way that ALL of this happened, at least without serious embellishment. But who cares... it's an interesting, high-flying tale, and a glimpse into the horrors of Spanish colonialism. This short book is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the era, in early memoir, or in the picaresque tradition. Also, the audio book by Audible is well read, though you might want to skip the self-important forward and introduction!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Really interesting viewpoint and text for insight into colonial Spain and the intersection (or nonintersection) of gender, nationality, and religion.

  9. 4 out of 5

    V

    Old timey memoirs were the best. No showing off how many books the author's read, just action, action, action. Catalina de Erauso was a 15 year old Spanish girl in a convent who, after being beaten by some of the nuns, sees a chance to escape and takes it. She disguises herself as a boy and takes on a clerical job, but after committing a couple murders, flees to the new world, where she becomes a solider and commits even more murders. I lost track of the bodies fairly quickly. Details in this bo Old timey memoirs were the best. No showing off how many books the author's read, just action, action, action. Catalina de Erauso was a 15 year old Spanish girl in a convent who, after being beaten by some of the nuns, sees a chance to escape and takes it. She disguises herself as a boy and takes on a clerical job, but after committing a couple murders, flees to the new world, where she becomes a solider and commits even more murders. I lost track of the bodies fairly quickly. Details in this book are scarce, but even still we get a hint of her sense of humor. Like when she is trying to escape the law when she comes across two constables in the dark, and "then they ask for my name and I say (what I shouldn't have said), 'The Devil.'" Other than these little jokes, we don't get much sense of her personality, but she must have some charisma because powerful people are always trying to help her avoid murder charges and women are always trying to marry her to their daughters. Some people may wonder how Catalina conceived of her gender or sexuality, but I'm more curious how she managed to use the bathroom without revealing her sex, since relieving oneself wasn't exactly a private act during the Renaissance.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ruth N

    The title is somewhat misleading in the sense that it is not a well rounded account of Catalina de Erauso. The book is really about all the places she went to and who she fought or quarreled with, how she made some money, why she ran off or was run off. Oh, and how she hobnobbed with some important historical people. It read like this, Catalina goes to city A, she gets a job/somehow gets some money, meets so and so, gets into trouble (by insulting someone/being insulted, cheating/being cheated, e The title is somewhat misleading in the sense that it is not a well rounded account of Catalina de Erauso. The book is really about all the places she went to and who she fought or quarreled with, how she made some money, why she ran off or was run off. Oh, and how she hobnobbed with some important historical people. It read like this, Catalina goes to city A, she gets a job/somehow gets some money, meets so and so, gets into trouble (by insulting someone/being insulted, cheating/being cheated, etc), gets into a dueling fight with them, gets injured, gets kicked out of City A, makes her way to City B and repeats cycle (for the most part). I do think that some nuances were lost when the memoir was translated to English but honestly I felt misled by the title. I guess I thought it would be like an insider's (a woman) look at life during that time period which was definitely dominated by men's point of view. I honestly thought it could have been written by a man... Having said that, it was something if an interesting read and I'm glad I can check it off my reading list.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    my friend had found this book laying around in his apartment building's basement. picked it up and read it on a whim. thought it was interesting and sent it my way after he was done. well, there is A LOT packed in that tiny book. fascinating story to say the least. not terribly well written and i wonder just how much was her story is embellished and well, factual. nonetheless, not terrible and a very, very quick read. oh, and the pacing of the story is most amusing to me. seriously, it's like, " my friend had found this book laying around in his apartment building's basement. picked it up and read it on a whim. thought it was interesting and sent it my way after he was done. well, there is A LOT packed in that tiny book. fascinating story to say the least. not terribly well written and i wonder just how much was her story is embellished and well, factual. nonetheless, not terrible and a very, very quick read. oh, and the pacing of the story is most amusing to me. seriously, it's like, ""Oh, you know, i rain away from the convent and all and then this theology professor took me in and let me stay for a few months. Turns out he's married to one of my aunts. ANYWHO, he liked me a whole lot and wanted me to stay and be his student for the long haul but I thought otherwise so then he beat me. . ." lulz.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    My goodness, what an interesting life! I suppose my only frustration is that De Erauso was writing a confession, not a memoir, and so I was left very hungry for more. Just how she was able to get through situations such as being stripped and nearly racked without being revealed as a woman is something I'd really like to know. This is very much a "Perils of Pauline" story, and quite an interesting look at 16th-century Latin America and the Spaniards who settled there. My goodness, what an interesting life! I suppose my only frustration is that De Erauso was writing a confession, not a memoir, and so I was left very hungry for more. Just how she was able to get through situations such as being stripped and nearly racked without being revealed as a woman is something I'd really like to know. This is very much a "Perils of Pauline" story, and quite an interesting look at 16th-century Latin America and the Spaniards who settled there.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    The story in & of itself is crazy, but the memoir is merely a record of that story. It's literally like reading a non-stop monologue of someone's wild-but-true story of her life as a man in a time when that was pretty much illegal/frowned upon/but she got away with it for pretty much her whole life so fascinating, only, really, because of that. The story in & of itself is crazy, but the memoir is merely a record of that story. It's literally like reading a non-stop monologue of someone's wild-but-true story of her life as a man in a time when that was pretty much illegal/frowned upon/but she got away with it for pretty much her whole life so fascinating, only, really, because of that.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    The title leaves out the best part: this is a transvestite lieutenant nun from the 1500s!! A true story swash buckling tranny who kills lots of people and is addicted to gambling and stealing her (his) brother's mistress. It's addicting, you'll finish it in a day. The title leaves out the best part: this is a transvestite lieutenant nun from the 1500s!! A true story swash buckling tranny who kills lots of people and is addicted to gambling and stealing her (his) brother's mistress. It's addicting, you'll finish it in a day.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Mole

    All historical fencers need to read this book. It is an unvarnished account of the protagonists life and provides enlightening insights to the social attitudes of the time in Spain's South American colonies. All historical fencers need to read this book. It is an unvarnished account of the protagonists life and provides enlightening insights to the social attitudes of the time in Spain's South American colonies.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    read it for a college class,

  17. 4 out of 5

    JLSchmidt Schmidt

    Women & Gender Roles Explored Taking on this book was part of an assignment for a course in Women's History at my local college. I wasn't sure what I was in for considering the length and breadth of the Forward and the Introduction. This book about the adventures of Catalina de Erauso gives us a glimpse into the 1600's and what it was like in the Americas for men. While Catalina dresses as a man to escape a sure ending to her freedom, what comes next is a life of adventure and at times a transient Women & Gender Roles Explored Taking on this book was part of an assignment for a course in Women's History at my local college. I wasn't sure what I was in for considering the length and breadth of the Forward and the Introduction. This book about the adventures of Catalina de Erauso gives us a glimpse into the 1600's and what it was like in the Americas for men. While Catalina dresses as a man to escape a sure ending to her freedom, what comes next is a life of adventure and at times a transient existence. The book gives us pause to look at what the expectation of women was, but then not to dwell on it, but to see what adventure could await women of that time. Catalina was gambled, a soldier and like it or not a killer. Her misadventures in the world of men are both fascinating and sometime repugnant given the violence she deals in. In the end, her life is an incredible story of making something of a future that is different that what would be expected of someone in her position, in the position of a woman. Her story is not only exciting at times but sad. While the book tells you upfront that it is a "good" translation of her story, it is somewhat easy to tell that either the story has been lost over the years, that the translation is sometimes lacking as English cannot do justice to somethings, and the perhaps Catalina herself, in relaying the story wasn't very forthcoming about some things. Either way, it's a good quick read and great if you are looking for history of the time period.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aiden

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Fascinating, definitely worth reading and I would read it read it again.Very grateful for the introduction, forward, and translator's notes. I understand that translation is complicated and yet I'm still troubled by the decision to use English personal pronouns to refer to Catalina when, according to the notes, Catalina never used feminine articles/word endings for themselves, instead using the masculine. The way that Catalina lives as a man upholding traditional gender roles and advancing Spani Fascinating, definitely worth reading and I would read it read it again.Very grateful for the introduction, forward, and translator's notes. I understand that translation is complicated and yet I'm still troubled by the decision to use English personal pronouns to refer to Catalina when, according to the notes, Catalina never used feminine articles/word endings for themselves, instead using the masculine. The way that Catalina lives as a man upholding traditional gender roles and advancing Spanish empire is the most interesting part of this narrative. On Catalina's part there is no introspection or context, which is why I appreciated and enjoyed the introductions so much - to add nuance and flavor. I didn't so much care for the story or for Catalina, but it's fascinating for the historical info and modern implications.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Arostegui

    Amazon review: One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became a gambler, and even mistakenly killed her own brother in a duel. During her lifetime she emerged as the adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world. This de Amazon review: One of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became a gambler, and even mistakenly killed her own brother in a duel. During her lifetime she emerged as the adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world. This delightful translation of Catalina's own work introduces a new audience to her audacious escapades. From the "Introduction" by translator Michele Stepto: "Sometime between 1626 and 1630 -- that is, between the visit to Naples, which concludes her memoir, and her return to the Americas -- she wrote down in manuscript or dictated to an amanuensis an account of her life."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Casandra Harris

    I was assigned to read this book for my Colonial Latin America history class, and out of the three books we had to read this one was the most intriguing. This book follows the life of Catalina de Erauso and how she dressed as a man and made her way to South America. The book itself is a short and easy read and the story is interesting, but it seemed to be aimed towards a more Colonial Latin background. Catalina somehow managed to get herself into a lot of trouble through her travels, but also ma I was assigned to read this book for my Colonial Latin America history class, and out of the three books we had to read this one was the most intriguing. This book follows the life of Catalina de Erauso and how she dressed as a man and made her way to South America. The book itself is a short and easy read and the story is interesting, but it seemed to be aimed towards a more Colonial Latin background. Catalina somehow managed to get herself into a lot of trouble through her travels, but also managed to get out of them some way or another. This book was an interesting read and was well translated for anyone to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Annelise

    Catalina was a feisty one. I was inspired to read this book for book club. Clearly, I wasn’t super interested, it took me 7 months to actually pick the book up and finish it. However, being an Air Force Lieutenant myself, once I finally started reading, I was pretty amazed at just how much she accomplished and how courageous she was. She could handle more than most men of her time! I was not a fan of the trans portion of the book. For what this book was, it was brief and somewhat interesting.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leanne

    La Monja Alférez!!! One of the earliest memoirs written by a woman, this nun give the Quixote a run for his money! Picaresque and rascally!!! It is living proof that fact is stranger than fiction. A nun is ready to run, she cuts her hair and dresses as a man where she hops aboard a boat bound for the New World. The translation is so good, you will never know how old the original text is. Bravo to the translator. I can see why this was a notable New York Times book in 1996.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tabi

    “Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650) was a Basque noblewoman who, just before taking final vows to become a nun, escaped from the convent at San Sebastián, dresses as a man, and, in her own words, ‘went hither and thither, embarked, went into port, took a roving, slew, wounded, embezzled, and roamed about.’”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sadiya Patel

    The main character is just too hot-headed and inflammable in her actions for me to follow along on her journey. There's not much thought behind her actions that we can piece together from her writing, but it is still an interesting read to grasp an idea on colonial latin America and Spain. The main character is just too hot-headed and inflammable in her actions for me to follow along on her journey. There's not much thought behind her actions that we can piece together from her writing, but it is still an interesting read to grasp an idea on colonial latin America and Spain.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Quick read but well worth it - a very different memoir

  26. 4 out of 5

    Biblibio

    In a word: wild. Full review: http://biblibio.blogspot.com/2018/08/... In a word: wild. Full review: http://biblibio.blogspot.com/2018/08/...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Arredondo

    A cheeky story about a young girl’s cheeky adventures throughout the Americas and Spain. Enjoyed the narrator’s humor and bold personality.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gift Card

    Riveting tale The storytelling was suspenseful, comedic and larger than life.I enjoyed the historical references including her travels to Bolivia and Chile.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Reiter

    what if Don Quixote was trans?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    A Fun Read While this book isn't much about introspection and philosophy, it is rich with attitude and adventure. The story of Catalina and her exploits would make great movie. A Fun Read While this book isn't much about introspection and philosophy, it is rich with attitude and adventure. The story of Catalina and her exploits would make great movie.

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