Francis Xavier’s Letters and Writings are eloquent narratives of a journey that absorbed the Saint’s entire life. His experiences and idiosyncrasies, values and categorizations are presented in a clear literate discourse. The missionary is rarely neutral in his opinions as he sustains his unmistakable and omnipresent objective: the conversion of peoples and the expansion of the Society of Jesus.
Parallel with this objective, the reader is introduced to the individuals that Xavier meets or that he summons in his epistolary discourse. Letters and Writings presents us with a structured narrative peopled by all those who are subject to and objects of Xavier’s apostolic mission, by helpful and unhelpful persons of influence, and by leading and secondary actors.
What is then the position of women, in the collective sense as well as in the individual sense, in the travels and goals that are the centre of Xavier’s Letters and Writings? What is the role of women, that secondary and suppressed term in the man/woman binomial, a dichotomy similar to the civilized/savage and European/native binomials that punctuate Xavier’s narratives and the historic context of his letters? Women are not absent from his writings, but it would be naïve to argue in favour of the author’s misogyny as much as of his “profound knowledge of the female heart”, to quote from Paulo Durão in "Women in the Letters of Saint Francis Xavier" (1952), the only paper on this subject published so far.
We denote four great categories of women in the Letters and Writings: European Women, Converted Women, Women Who Profess another Religion, and Women as the Agents and Objects of Sin, the latter of which traverses the other three categories. They all depend on the context, circumstances and judgements of value that the author chooses to highlight and articulate.
|Keywords:||Representation, Gender, Xavier, Religion, Sin, Letters, Cartas y Escritos, Conversion, Orient|
Full Professor, Department of Languages and Culture, Instituto Superior de Contabilidade e Administração do Porto (ISCAP), Porto, Portugal
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