08 April 2016
Portuguese Anagrammatic Nun Novelist
If that title sounds like a cryptic crossword clue, so much the better.
An improving novel in the baroque style, interspersed with poems. The author (1672-1760?) was born Maria Magdalena Eufémia da Glória. When she entered the Franciscan order at the convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperança in Lisbon, she took the name in religion Magdalena da Gloria. She wrote under the pseudonym Leonarda Gil da Gama, an anagram of her religious name. Her convent was home also to Maria do Ceu (b. 1658), author of several baroque works. Sister Maria has been studied in recent years, but it looks as if Leonarda’s star has yet to rise again.
The reason for her affecting a pseudonym was not her sex (Maria do Ceu had no such problem) but presumably her vocation. One wonders how much of a secret this was: the Prologues recognise that her name is an anagram, and given the anagram-crazy culture of the Baroque it must have been child’s play to unmask her.
The Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658) hid his identity under that of his brother Lorenzo and the anagram García de Marlones.
Baroque style lived on in Portugal in prose and verse when it was rather in decline elsewhere. One indication of this is that most of the 17th-century poets are to be read in the anthology A Fenix renascida (‘Phoenix reborn’) of 1716-28 (we have a mixed set at 11452.a.23.).
In his bibliography, Innocêncio Francisco da Silva tells us she was much admired in her own time, dubbed the Phoenix of Wits (Phenix dos Ingenhos), although ‘today  few would be able to bear reading her works, on account of her exquisitely conceptista style’.
This is a new acquisition. We have other works by her, all apparently acquired quite recently, an indication both of the long period of neglect which she has suffered and a sign that her fortunes may be rallying.
Should you wish to assist this process of reassessment, where better to start than the British Library?
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance language collections
Leonarda Gil da Gama, Aguia real, fenix abrazado, pelicano amante, historia panegyrica, e vida prodigioza do inclito Patriarca ... S. Agostinho ... (Lisbon, 1744). RB.23.a.8047
Leonarda Gil da Gama, Reyno de Babylonia, ganhado pelas armas do empyreo; discurso moral …
(Lisbon, 1749). Cup.407.n.4. (also available online) Illustrated with alegorical emblems.
Sóror Maria do Céu, Triunfo do rosário : repartido em cinco autos; tradução e apresentação de Ana Hatherly. (Lisbon, 1992). YA.1995.a.8273
Rellaçaõ da vida e morte da serva de Deos a veneravel Madre Elenna da Crus : transcriçaõ do Códice 87 da Biblioteca Nacional precedida de um estudo histórico / por Maria do Céu ; Filomena Belo. (Lisbon, 1993). YA.2000.a.29236
Walter Begley, Biblia Anagrammatica, or the Anagrammatic Bible: a literary curiosity gathered from unexplored sources and from books of the greatest rarity ... With a general introduction and a special bibliography. (London, 1904) 3129.e.77.