In the dead of a frigid winter night, a man escapes from an apartment in which a young woman lies bleeding. In his hands he clutches a box he has found there. He is Donald Gregory, a once-respected college professor and serial adulterer, whose last affair has left his career in ruins. She is Beulah Limosneros, one of his students and for a brief time his lover. Brilliant, erratic and driven, she had disappeared into Mexico two years earlier, following her growing obsession with Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, who was born in 1648, entered a convent at nineteen, and became the greatest poet of her time, only to die of plague in 1695. As a police investigation closes in around Gregory, he examines the box's contents, fearful of evidence Beulah may have compiled against him -- translated poems of Sor Juana, a travel journal, research notes on the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the Inquisition, diary entries concerning him, and a strange manuscript, part biography and part fiction, about Sor Juana.
Based on the life of one of literature's most seductive and compelling figures, Paul Anderson's astonishing debut unveils a great poet's withdrawal from the world who at the height of her creative powers signs a vow of contrition in her own blood.