This thesis examines the literary works of María de Zayas y Sotomayor called the Desengaños amorosos (1647) and the message these works suggest about life choices for women in sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain. In these novellas, María de Zayas makes a connection to the actual life of noblewomen both in the convent and outside of it. Her writing suggests through virtual and narrated experience that life in the convent allows for greater self actualization than life as a married woman. For the female characters in Desengaños amorosos, María de Zayas often utilized the convent as the superior alternative to a life controlled and frequently destroyed by men in a patriarchal society that promoted a strict honor code. This thesis investigates fictional women's lives as described in the novellas and the relationship to what type of lives these women could have in the convent in order to provide an explanation as to why Zayas constantly reinforced the choice of convent life for both damaged women as well as undamaged women in her exemplary texts. Outside of life in the convent, a respectable woman of noble blood had one option, marriage. The majority of Spanish noblewomen were brought up under the tutelage of the male head of the household until he chose a suitable husband for her who assumed responsibility for his wife after the marriage. The code of honor specified that women were fragile, weak minded, and they needed to be "protected" by a male guardian to shelter them from potential danger to the most precious treasure, the family's honor. While the convent also served to protect and maintain a woman's honor, convent life was also an option that allowed women to assert a level of autonomy or self-actualization through the supportive female community and educational opportunities available to them in the safe, religious environment. Zayas preference for narrative evidence of why women need to be self actualized is a means to an end. The constant theme of women who needed to learn to be aware of deception and illusion for self defense throughout the Desengaños amorosos indicates that for Zayas, noblewomen should choose the convent when faced with the potential of a bad marriage. Life in the convent served not only to maintain societal standards for women but also provide them an opportunity to learn and develop an understanding for the weapons necessary to defend themselves in a male dominated society. These weapons were words which provided them with a voice that could counter an entire code for behavior that devalued their intellectual ability and underestimated a woman's importance in maintaining a healthy society.


Kimberly Contag

Committee Member

Gregory Taylor

Committee Member

Patricia Hoffman

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)


Arts and Humanities

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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