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The Twentieth-Century Spanish American Novel

The Twentieth-Century Spanish American Novel

The first complete analytical and critical overview of the Spanish American novel throughout the entire twentieth century, now available in paperback.

June 2003
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280 pages | 6 x 9 |

Spanish American novels of the Boom period (1962-1967) attracted a world readership to Latin American literature, but Latin American writers had already been engaging in the modernist experiments of their North American and European counterparts since the turn of the twentieth century. Indeed, the desire to be "modern" is a constant preoccupation in twentieth-century Spanish American literature and thus a very useful lens through which to view the century's novels.

In this pathfinding study, Raymond L. Williams offers the first complete analytical and critical overview of the Spanish American novel throughout the entire twentieth century. Using the desire to be modern as his organizing principle, he divides the century's novels into five periods and discusses the differing forms that "the modern" took in each era. For each period, Williams begins with a broad overview of many novels, literary contexts, and some cultural debates, followed by new readings of both canonical and significant non-canonical novels. A special feature of this book is its emphasis on women writers and other previously ignored and/or marginalized authors, including experimental and gay writers. Williams also clarifies the legacy of the Boom, the Postboom, and the Postmodern as he introduces new writers and new novelistic trends of the 1990s.


A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

  • Preface
  • Part I: The Literary Tradition and Modern Science, 1900-1921
    • Chapter 1. Novelistic and Cultural Contexts at the Turn of the Century
    • Chapter 2. Rereading Spanish American Classics
  • Part II: Traditional and Modernist Aesthetics, 1922-1940
    • Chapter 3. Novelistic and Cultural Contexts in the 1920s and 1930s
    • Chapter 4. Rereading Spanish American Criollista Classics
    • Chapter 5. Rereading Novels of Vanguardia
  • Part III: The Rise of the Modernist Novel, 1941-1961
    • Chapter 6. Novelistic and Cultural Contexts of Latin American Modernism
    • Chapter 7. Rereading Spanish American Modernist Novels
  • Part IV: Modern and Cosmopolitan Works, 1962-1967
    • Chapter 8. Novels and Contexts of the Boom and Beyond
    • Chapter 9. Rereading Novels of the Boom
    • Chapter 10. Rereading the Spanish American Novel beyond the Boom
  • Part V: Toward a Postboom, Feminist, and Postmodern Novel, 1968-1999
    • Chapter 11. Novelistic and Cultural Contexts in the 1970s and 1980s
    • Chapter 12. Rereading the Spanish American Novel of the 1970s and 1980s
    • Chapter 13. Modern, Postmodern, and Transnational: The Latin American Novel in the 1990s
  • Notes
  • Bibliography

Raymond Leslie Williams is Professor of Latin American Literature at the University of California, Riverside. His previous publications include The Writings of Carlos Fuentes, The Postmodern Novel in Latin America, and The Colombian Novel, 1844-1987.


In Latin America, the early twentieth century really belonged culturally to the nineteenth in many ways, particularly at the immediate turn of the century, when Spanish American modernismo was, among other things, the Spanish-language version of the Parnassian and symbolist writing recently in vogue in France and elsewhere in Europe. The most "modern" (in the general sense of contemporary) writing of the period was generally perceived to be the poetry of modernismo. In this first moment of desiring to be modern, the first two decades of the century, the modernistas of Spanish America predominated only in poetry, for the production of modernista novels was scarce. The modernista poets of Latin America thought of themselves as the most cosmopolitan and modern intellectuals of their time and, in many ways, they were.


The subjects of novels written in the early part of the century frequently faced problems and conflicts related to the old aristocracies and patriarchal order that still lingered in most regions of Latin America. Many of the writers of this period, such as Colombian Tomás Carrasquilla, made statements or literary manifestos expressing their desire to be modern. Nevertheless, they were not uniformly consistent in their ability to reject the past and embrace modernity. Several women were actively writing fiction, but they were clearly a minority voice in the totality of Latin American fiction of this period.


Often misinterpreted as aloof from society at large and disinterested in social and political concerns, the modernistas, in reality, were fundamentally horrified by the new bourgeois values taking hold in the nascent middle-class society appearing in Latin America. For these turn-of-the-century intellectuals, many of the cultural values of the new middle classes were materialistic to the point of being vulgar and consequently were unacceptable and to be rejected. They preferred to cultivate only the more refined elements of cultural modernity and in so doing protested against bourgeois society and its values.


As Jrade has pointed out, the modernistas proposed a worldview that imagined the universe as a system of correspondences in which language was capable of revealing profound truths regarding the order of the cosmos. They sought to invent a new discourse that might reveal hidden realities as well as address matters related to the empirical reality of Latin America. Novels such as the Venezuelan Manuel Díaz Rodríguez's Sangre patricia (1902) reveal both the search for profound truths and the concern for the political reality of Venezuela.


A competing early-twentieth-century perception of being modern embraced a more scientific model, even though many aspects of this late-nineteenth-century "science" are considered pseudoscience today. Of science that endured, Darwin's theses about the respective roles of heredity and environment had enormous impact on what was the naturalist novel that appeared in Latin America in a variety of permutations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Numerous forms of rationalist intellectual rigor were in vogue throughout Latin America at the turn of the century, particularly positivism, which promoted the idea of progress with empirical science and free enterprise as its vehicle. A positivistic, materialistic, and pragmatic discourse predominated in literary expression. In Latin America, the novelistic outcome of this more scientific worldview was the realist and naturalist novel. In addition, turn-of-the-century intellectuals published a broad spectrum of pseudoscientific texts, some of which were novels. In fact, the Argentine doctor Francisco Sicardi wrote a lengthy and digressive novel, Libro extraño (1894-1902), a pseudoscientific narrative in which a prostitute circulates, contaminating the other characters in the novel. In this 1,200-page pastiche, Sicardi the scientist suggests the difficulties inherent in finding order (in a text and in a nation) when cultural heterogeneity and social disorder were on the rise.


One legacy of positivism, as Masiello has explained, involved a strong interest in the position of women in Argentina. In nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century texts, women often served as mediators between civilization and barbarism, between Europe and America, and also as an intermediary element against what was perceived as the savagery of the natives. During this period, women were increasingly present in the public sphere, particularly in Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. In Argentina, the desire to be modern was manifested by some women as a desire to integrate art and personal experience, mixing the previously fixed categories of the public and the private spheres. In Brazil, the end of the nineteenth century had witnessed the publication of what can be viewed as the first gay novel in Latin America, Bom-Crioulo (1895) by Adolfo Caminha.


In the fiction produced in Latin America during the early part of the century, realist and naturalist models predominated to such a degree that it is appropriate to speak of a "realist-naturalist" novelistic production. The hyphen is an indicator of the consistent blending of the two novelistic traditions that in Europe remained more distinctive. This realist-naturalist fiction, as traditional as it may seem for many readers a century later, was quite modern for the intellectuals of the time, for this writing was a dialogue with many of the latest scientific ideas. This was the case of one of the masters of the traditional art of fiction, the short-story writer Horacio Quiroga. The publication of Quiroga's stories during the second decade of the century was a clear indicator that the art of fiction in Latin America had was becoming sophisticated in its use of the modalities of the realist-naturalist tradition. For Beatriz Sarlo, Quiroga is typical of the paradigmatic figure of modernity that arose in the early twentieth century: the amateur technologist and inventor.


The Latin American novel written by the modernistas has often been rejected and disregarded except by literary historians; the realist-naturalist tradition of the nineteenth century, on the other hand, has maintained a more viable literary space throughout the Americas. Even the most accomplished modernista novels, for example, such as Manuel Díaz Rodríguez's Idolos rotos (1901) and Sangre patricia (1902), as well as Enrique Larreta's La gloria de don Ramiro (1908) are books remembered primarily as artifacts of literary history rather than as literature broadly read over the decades. As Aníbal González has pointed out, the prestige of certain novelists and poets of the 1920s overshadowed the modernista novelists.


La gloria de don Ramiro has been described appropriately as a sumptuous novel which hints that Spanish American civilization arose from Spain's decadent features. Set in Spain during the period of Phillip II, it is an historical reconstruction focused on the city of Avila. Written in a style that imitates the Spanish language of the time in Spain, it seems to fit the cliché about modernista works that were an escape from the everyday reality of early-twentieth-century Argentina. Reviewed carefully, however, it is a novel that deals with both the archaic and the modern. Aníbal González has demonstrated how La gloria de don Ramiro is a multilayered text and is very much concerned with the sociohistoric origins of Spanish America.


Many novelists throughout Latin America responded to the political scenario with moral indignation. Díaz Rodríguez's Idolos rotos relates the story of a Venezuelan artist using the backdrop of Venezuelan politics. The artist, Alberto Soria, is a sculptor who, after returning home from a stay in Paris, finds it enormously difficult to withstand the lack of cultural sensitivity, poor manners, and vulgar values of the local bourgeoisie. He finds a personal relationship with María Almeida but leaves her in favor of a more intriguing married woman. Working out of a studio near Caracas, he becomes involved in both the cultural and political scene in Venezuela. A military coup results in the rise of a brutal regime that respects Alberto's art and artistic sensitivity even less than did the bourgeoisie, resulting in his deciding to leave Venezuela and denounce his patria. As Aníbal González has explained, Alberto's ideology is an elitist vision that seeks to move artists and intellectuals to political action. Like some prominent intellectuals in Colombia at the turn of the century, Díaz Rodríguez hoped for a type of moral "regeneration"--led by intellectuals--that would place Venezuela on the right course.


Venezuelan Rufino Blanco Fombona was a moralist whose novels were a response to the dictatorships of Cipriano Castro and Juan Vicente Gómez. His novels El hombre de hierro (1907) and El hombre de oro (1916) were important contributions to the process of nation building even though Blanco Fombona did not write fiction with the stylistic nuances of Díaz Rodríguez or the technical sophistication of Azuela. Rather, like Carlos Reyles, Pío Gil, and many other fiction writers of this period, Blanco Fombona was far more interested in his nation's immediate political circumstance than in writing compelling fiction.


In Brazil, early-twentieth-century fiction was as much a dialogue with nineteenth-century ideas and writing as it was elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazilian novelists wrote predominantly in the realist-naturalist mode and somewhat under the shadow of a master of fiction in Brazil and Latin America: Machado de Assis. In Brazil, the novelists and intellectuals were intensely engaged in a self-examination on issues of national identity that were also present among their counterparts in Spanish America.


These Brazilian reflections on national identity appeared in essays as well as novels with strong essayistic components. The result was books such as Afonso Celso's Por que me ufano do meu país (1900) and Euclides da Cunha's Os sertões (1902). These two writers explored what they considered the "national character" in works that were not easy to classify in terms of genre. Much of the fiction of the time, in fact, represented a viable dialogue on national identity when read in the context of these debates. The predominance of ideas and the essay form over story and character development was a general trend in the Brazilian novel and much Latin American fiction of the period.


Os sertões is most appropriately read not as a novel, but as a multilayered text comparable to Sicardi's Libro extraño. The Brazilian text consists of fiction, history, sociology, scientific treatises, and other quasi-scientific discourses. After having worked for several years as a journalist, da Cunha was sent to Canudos, Brazil, in 1896 to cover an uprising of a group of religious fanatics, material that would later become the basic plot for Vargas Llosa's La guerra del fin del mundo (1981; see chapter 13). Five years after the fall of Canudos to government troops, da Cunha's magnum opus of more than five hundred pages appeared, in 1902.


These trends and the issues of national cultural autonomy debated throughout Latin America were developed in Canaã (1902) by José Pereira da Graça Aranha. Along with Os sertões, Canaã was one of the most widely read and discussed books in Brazil in the early part of the century. Canaã is a work of ideas rather than actions, and one of the central ideas that Graça Aranha promotes is that culture in the broadest sense (cultura) is the ultimate answer to society's ills.


The advent of the republic in 1889 was an important factor in the dialogue about national identity in Brazil. National identity and cultural autonomy were also the foci of discussions among intellectuals of the Caribbean. Cuba had just received its independence from Spain in 1898, and the colonies of the French and British secured their independence at different times during the nineteenth century. Haiti was among the first, liberating itself from France in 1804 and immediately entering into a series of failed attempts at agrarian reform.


By the late nineteenth century, some groups in Puerto Rico had organized strong independence movements in order to gain political autonomy from Spain, and the movements enjoyed considerable success. Landowners and middle-class Puerto Ricans were given the power to rule Puerto Rico with some political autonomy from Spain when the invasion of American troops in 1898 resulted in U.S. control of the island. Diverse economic and political sectors reacted in a variety of ways to this situation, with most groups finding a way to adapt to the change from Spanish to U.S. rule on the island.


At the end of the nineteenth century, a series of novels was published in Puerto Rico by Manuel Zeno Gandía, a writer typical of his time who, as a journalist and physician interested in politics, was comparable to the Mexican Mariano Azuela. His realist-naturalist works of that time still are considered canonical works in Puerto Rico and served as a model for early-twentieth-century novelists writing in the realist-naturalist mode, such as Matías González García, Ramón Juliá Marín, and José Elías Levis. These novelists wrote with an acute awareness of their immediate social and political circumstance, offering detailed descriptions of social, political, and cultural life in Puerto Rico during and after the U.S. invasion of the island. These realist-naturalist novels included González García's Gestación (1904), Juliá Marín's Tierra adentro (1911), and Levis's Mancha de lodo (1903).


Cuban and Haitian novelists of the early part of the century were as imbued with the realist-naturalist tradition as were their contemporaries elsewhere, and the Cuban writers tended to view the social and political realities of their recently independent nation through the same lens of nineteenth-century positivism that was the case throughout Latin America. Understandably enough, given Cuba's longstanding subservient role under colonial powers, they were also markedly nationalistic. These novelists, such as José Antonio Ramos, Miguel Carrión, and Jesús Castellanos, tended to portray a black and white world of binary oppositions. Ramos was an essentially nineteenth-century writer who published Humberto Fabra (1909) and later novels that attempted to surpass the clichés of nationalism. Humberto Fabra, however, was his attempt to portray Cuba's social and economic injustice. Carrión's novels Las honradas (1918) and Las impuras (1919) were the writer's playing out of naturalist schemes in a Cuban setting. Jesús Castellanos set forth the conflict between idealism and materialism, as has been seen in modernista novels, in La conjura (1909).


Haitian novelists of the early twentieth century wrote within the established models of the nineteenth-century French novel. These novelists wrote in proper French and imitated the realist mode established in France. Nevertheless, Frédéric Marcelin, Fernand Hibbert, Antoine Inanocent, and Justin Lhérisson were the founders of the national novel in Haiti, primarily because they were the first generation in Haiti to write fiction based on Haitian customs, family traditions and political issues. Marcelin wrote accounts of his experience working in the government, culminating in his autobiographical novel Au gré du Souvenir (1913).


At the turn of the century, Chicano intellectuals were facing issues of national identity, but of a different sort. According to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexicans living in Texas could choose either to remain in Texas and become American citizens or go to Mexico. Those who chose to remain became the ethnic group that has been the historical root of Chicano literature, the first of which was published in the nineteenth century. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, massive Mexican immigration came into Texas as Mexican workers filled the need for an increased labor force caused by World War I; at the same time, many fled Mexico as a result of the Mexican Revolution. A set of renowned Mexican intellectuals--including Mariano Azuela, José Vasconcelos, and Martín Luis Guzmán--also went into exile.


In the early part of the twentieth century, most of the Spanish American republics were suffering from a variety of crises and forms of political instability. Over a thin glaze of progressive reforms intended to rapidly modernize these republics into replicas of modern European states were a generalized chaos and growing desire for a heterogeneity that did not easily fit with the dominant values of positivism and the new bourgeoisie. The most renowned of these modernization efforts was that of Mexico's Porfirio Díaz, whose dictatorship resulted in the construction of railroads, wide avenues, and monuments in Mexico City and the like. Colombia was in the grips of the "Regeneration" at the turn of the century; this was a conservative reaction against liberal reforms in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In Argentina, Leandro N. Alem headed a middle-class revolution against ex-President Julio Roca and the oligarchs at the end of the nineteenth century. This revolution forced Roca's right-hand man, Juárez Celman, out of power and replaced him with Carlos Pellegrini and bolstered the Radical party, which elected Hipólito Irigoyen in 1916. Venezuela was still recovering from the dictatorship of Guzmán Blanco when Cipriano Castro took power in 1899; Castro, in turn, maintained his own dictatorship until 1908, when he handed the power over to Juan Vicente Gómez.


In both the politics and culture of much of Latin America, competing views pitted the modern and progressive ideas of science and positivism against ideas that related to traditionalism. Many of the writers expressed a desire to be modern, yet they embraced seemingly conflicting views of what that might mean. For the new middle classes, being modern meant assuming ideas of positivism and pragmatism; for some of the writers, being modern meant rejecting these ideas and embracing a combination of new European aesthetics and certain ideals of romanticism. Aesthetic programs were effected in a manner similar to the way politics were practiced, that is, in a contradictory and chaotic fashion. Many of these writers, such as Carlos Reyles and Pío Gil, wrote in the mold of their nineteenth-century predecessors: they were much more concerned about immediate political circumstances than the aesthetics of fiction. An exception to this generalization was Mariano Azuela, who was both politically motivated and a master in the art of fiction. For Reyles and Pío Gil, being modern meant associating with a pragmatic vision of the world ushered in by the scientists. Consequently, they thought of themselves as modern even though they are not generally read today as progressive writers.


The fiction of the Uruguayan novelist Carlos Reyles embodied some of these contradictions, for quite unlike the modernista writers and many of the intellectuals of the period, Reyles supported positivism and pragmatism of fin-de-siecle progress. His novel Raza de Caín (1900)--written in the realist-naturalist mode--tells the story of a pragmatic character who dominates an idealist. Reyles wrote in favor of the accumulation of material wealth, a position rarely found among intellectuals of the period, although, of course, many other intellectuals welcomed positivism, nineteenth-century science, and material progress as priorities for Latin America. In Reyles's novel El terruño (1916) about doña Angela, who owns a pulpería, he exhibits a preference for the practical-minded and common-sensical as opposed to the dreamy ideals of the romantics and the modernistas.


Los caranchos de La Florida (1916) was Benito Lynch's major contribution in the ongoing cultural dialogue that included Ricardo Guiraldes in Argentina. Like Reyles and Guiraldes, he set his novels in rural areas and wrote in the conventional (realist-naturalist) mode. In the process of providing descriptions of gaucho life in specific and social customs in general, Lynch constructed a plot built around a conflict between a father and his son. In addition to interpreting the gaucho tradition, Lynch was interested in exploring psychological traits of human beings. Lynch was not sophisticated enough with narrative technique to actually use interiorizations in this novel, although he demonstrated the ability to handle both literary language and the standard narrative techniques of the realist-naturalist tradition.


Many novelists of this period, such as Rufino Blanco Fombona, wanted to denounce the dictators and strongmen who were forcing economic progress onto some sectors of Latin American society at the cost of individual freedom and human rights. The Venezuelan Pío Gil wrote a denunciation of the dictatorship of Cipriano Castro titled El Cabito (1909). Like Reyles, Pío Gil is far more interested in politics than in aesthetics. El Cabito is a political novel whose protagonist misses an opportunity to assassinate the tyrant and whose heroine who dies in a convent. Pío Gil's critique is directed against a particular group: political opportunists who operate between the people and the president. The narrative focus alternates between groups and individuals. Unlike Reyles, who was convinced that accumulating wealth was a noble goal in itself, Pío Gil communicates a sense of futility in individuals' attempts to rise in social status or function at all in society at large.


Pedro Prado and Rafael Arévalo Martínez wrote with a keen awareness of both realist and modernista aesthetics. Prado published two novels during this period, La reina de Rapa Nui (1914) and Alsino (1920). The first is about characters who belong to an ancient civilization, seen with the critical distance of the twentieth-century reader and writer. Prado creates a variety of highly inventive situations to allow the reader to judge morality in social contexts. Written in the form of a journalist's diary, Prado questions traditional beliefs of contemporary Chilean society. Prado uses a similar technique in Alsino, a novel in which a young boy tests the social order in Chile. Written in the tone of a children's story, this novel's protagonist is a country boy capable of flying. Brushwood points out that the allegorical implications of Alsino deepen the experience for the reader. Arévalo Martínez wrote fiction in something of the allegorical mode, in some ways comparable to the work of Prado. His short novel El hombre que parecía un caballo (1916) functions in this manner. It deals with a human relationship that develops in both a positive and negative fashion; Arévalo Martínez's technique can be associated with those of symbolists, placing his work in the sphere of the modernistas.


The role of women as citizens and as intellectuals was in transition in much of Latin America. Government policy toward education, as well as laws concerning marriage and voting, were debated throughout Latin America. In Argentina, for example, Ernesto Quesada published a book in 1899, La cuestión femenina, arguing in favor of laws ending discrimination against women and of recognizing women's contributions to labor.


The Mexican Revolution had been the result of an increasing need for social justice in Mexico, where an elite had been ruling in tandem with the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz for several decades. The revolution began in 1910 under the leadership of the idealist Francisco Madero. The chaotic struggle that ensued brought to the forefront other leaders--Villa, Zapata, Orozco, Carranza--and it embodied numerous ideologies as well as interests of both middle-class and proletarian sectors of Mexican society. In 1917 a constitution was written and promulgated, making radical revisions to a constitution ratified in 1857. Mariano Azuela witnessed this entire process up close. Trained as a physician, like Sicardi and several other of these early-twentieth-century writers, Azuela came out of the educated middle class. He was a medic in the Mexican Revolution in its early stages, thus allowing him to experience the process as a participant, and he published the first novel of the revolution, Andrés Pérez, maderista (1911). With no pretense of being a revolutionary novel in itself, Andrés Pérez, maderista takes the perspective of a journalist who travels from Mexico City to the north to write about the Madero uprising. Consequently, the journalist becomes involved with the revolution. He observes multiple forms of opportunism and political expediency among individuals representing various sectors of Mexican society, from institutional authorities to wealthy landowners. Generally considered an aesthetic failure despite Azuela's already proven competence as a writer, this novel's weaknesses can be explained as Azuela's overly intense reaction to his theme.


The opportunism of some participants in the Mexican Revolution is also evident in Azuela's Los de abajo (1916), but this is one of the more accomplished novels of the period; indeed, it is one of the masterpieces of the traditional art of storytelling (see chapter 2). Azuela had established his credentials as a traditional storyteller in Mala yerba (1909), a novel about a conflict between the ruthless son of a wealthy landowner (Julián) and an attractive young woman who is the daughter of peons (Marcela). Julián abuses his power with Marcela, but Azuela does not present the typical good/bad dichotomy found in many nineteenth-century novels. Rather, he suggests that all individuals and institutions suffer from corruption. Before Mala yerba and Andrés Pérez, maderista, Azuela had published his first two novels--María Luisa (1907) and Los fracasados (1908). María Luisa is the story of a medical student's mistress who suffers from a disease and eventually dies; its stylistic and thematic innocence make it noteworthy only as the first novel of a prominent writer. Los fracasados is set in the Porfirio Díaz period in Mexico and satirizes attitudes common in a small town populated by individuals of obvious foolishness and selfishness. With respect to narrative strategies, Azuela's novels are the work of an essentially nineteenth-century novelist writing from the realist-naturalist tradition.


Colombian novelists at the beginning of the twentieth century were as entrenched in the previous century as Reyles, Azuela, and Blanco Fombona. The most recognized Colombian novelists at the turn of the century were Eustaquio Palacios, Soledad Acosta de Samper, José Manuel Marroquín, Tomás Carrasquilla, and José María Vargas Vila. Palacios, Acosta de Samper, and Marroquín were committed to a conservative political and cultural project identified in Colombia as the Regeneration, which, in many ways, operated like the political and ideological machinery of the porfiriato in Mexico. Most of the intellectuals associated with the Regeneration were gentlemen-scholars dedicated to the writing of poetry and political essays, although they did produce some fiction. One prominent exception to this generalization was José Asunción Silva's one novel of modernista aesthetic, De sobremesa (1896). Palacios, Soledad Acosta de Samper, and Marroquín published most of their novels in the nineteenth century.


The early fiction of Tomás Carrasquilla and José María Vargas Vila was not supportive of Colombia's Regeneration. Vargas Vila, in fact, was a strong liberal voice in numerous writings, and much of his work was in direct opposition to the Regeneration. Carrasquilla's Frutos de mi tierra (1896), like the fiction of Marroquín, communicates an awareness of signs of modernity in Colombia and expresses nostalgic attitudes toward a disappearing rural past. Vargas Vila was a critic of the status quo: his irreverent and anti-Regeneration attitudes constantly offended the upper class and the Catholic Church. If Marroquín embodied the Colombian Regeneration ideal of the gentleman-scholar who wrote well (exercising the craft of fiction adroitly in the realist-naturalist mode), Vargas Vila was his antithesis. Much of Vargas Vila's craft consisted of an amalgam of romantic clichés and the discourse of modernismo in vogue among Bogotá's cosmopolitan intellectuals.


Tomás Carrasquilla also was an independent intellectual who wrote in opposition to the values of Colombia's Regeneration, but without taking stances as irreverent as those of Vargas Vila. In 1906 Carrasquilla proclaimed a national literary independence, calling for a modern, national novel not based on foreign models. Despite the allusions to modernity and newness, Carrasquilla's fiction itself was, paradoxically, quite traditional--a reproduction of the nineteenth-century rural values and oral and popular culture of the Antioquia region. His novel Grandeza (1910) depicts Medellín's turn-of-the-century nouveaux riches and relates the eventual financial ruin of the woman protagonist, who becomes obsessed with taking care of her daughters. Criticizing the elitist aesthetics of the intellectuals in Bogotá, Carrasquilla states in his preface (in good nineteenth-century fashion) that Grandeza is a book of few aesthetic concerns--only some notes on his milieu. Much of Carrasquilla's fiction communicated a nostalgic feeling for the rural past of the region of Antioquia. In the case of Carrasquilla and Larreta, their stated desire to be modern is contradicted by a desire to return to a past they imagine as superior to the everyday reality of turn-of-the-century Latin America. Venezuelan novelist José Rafael Pocaterra shared Carrasquilla's paradoxically nostalgic attitude.


Colombian Clímaco Soto Borda never aspired to write the national novel. Soto Borda was a critic of the Regeneration, which was in power when he was writing his first novel, Diana cazadora (1915). Set in Bogotá during the Regeneration, Diana cazadora is an account of a young man's disillusionment, failures, and ultimate death. It is a novel of personal and national crisis. The characters suffer under the policies that the narrator calls the ratonera regeneradora (Regeneration thievery). The narrator also reveals a specific, critical attitude toward the Regeneration throughout the text.


At the turn of the century, writers like Azuela and Soto Borda were looking carefully at the traditional past and the modern future of their respective nations, attempting to make sense of the societal conflicts over the old ways and the new ways in the economic and political order. In Soto Borda's Diana cazadora, the protagonist's suffering is, in part, a crisis of modernity, the initial signs of which began to appear in conservative Bogotá at the turn of the century. Soto Borda was among the first writers to utilize these indicators in the setting of a novel. Having returned from Europe, one character notes the "progress" of Bogotá, including the new gas lights, the new water system, the foreign communities, the sicknesses, the secret police, the sudden deaths, the sermons, and other changes. The narrator places in doubt the very idea of modernity, speaking with obvious ironic overtones about the "heights of civilization" that Bogotá had reached. Just as modernity was arriving in Bogotá at a snail's pace, its objects fit uncomfortably into the Bogotá of Soto Borda.


The suffering of protagonist Fernando in Diana cazadora, in fact, represents a crisis of nascent modernity in Bogotá. An excessive participant in a newly decadent world, he ruins the family finances in his attempts to impress Diana--the modern woman par excellence. Fernando becomes an escapist consumer upon his return from Europe; increasingly he needs to flee from a harsh reality into alcohol. Near the end of the novel, when Fernando is alcoholic, the narrator describes him as desperate and violent. In the end, Fernando dies of his excesses, perhaps as a metaphor for modernity that fatally exceeded the conventions of Bogotá society. Fernando does not fit, and neither do the signs of Western modernity that he and others have brought to Colombia from abroad.


Like Vargas Vila and Soto Borda in Colombia, Argentine Manuel Gálvez was a controversial (and slightly oppositional) writer when he published his novels, even though he became associated with conservative values later in his life. In La maestra normal (1914), he relates the story of a young schoolteacher in a provincial town where she is eventually seduced. Typical of the period, many Argentines were offended by the novel's apparent questioning of conventional morals, and the residents of the town described were particularly offended by what they considered Galvez's misrepresentation of their lives and values. The title character of Galvez's next novel, Nacha Regules (1917), is led into prostitution by one man and then helped out of her situation by a social reformer. Set in Buenos Aires, this novel obviously emanates from the nineteenth-century naturalist tradition. More important, Gálvez relied on the pseudoscience of the period to foster a sentimental interest in the prostitute as a literary object.


One of the best-selling novels of this period in Argentina was written by a woman, Emma de la Barra. Her novel Stella (1905) is the story of a young woman's maturation, in the context of the arrival in Argentina of the young woman, Alejandra, and her sister Stella, who is limited by a disability. Alejandra (called Alex in the text) assumes multiple roles including intellectual father figure and caring mother figure. For Masiello, de la Barra formulates a radical self-consciousness for her female characters, and Stella is really about self-constitution of women in fiction.


Colombian Soledad Acosta de Samper was not as progressive as de la Barra. A prolific nineteenth-century novelist, Acosta de Samper published numerous books of fiction in the second half of the nineteenth century. She continued her realist-naturalist writing as one of Colombia's most prolific novelists in her time by publishing her last novels, Aventuras de un español entre los indios de las Antillas (1906) and Un hidalgo conquistador (1907), at the beginning of the twentieth. In an 1895 essay on the mission of the woman writer in Spanish America, Acosta de Samper explained her ideological project: "What is the woman's mission in the world? Undoubtedly to soften the customs, to moralize and to Christianize societies." She believed that Colombian women should be educated in these principles and that society should treat these "correctly" educated women as men's equals. Although she was behind the times compared to many early-twentieth-century feminists, her positions on customs, morality, and women made Acosta de Samper an exceptional intellectual and a progressive among Colombians of her day.


While this early Colombian feminist was concerned with gender equality, Bolivia's Alcides Arguedas posed in her work another question of equality--that of justice toward indigenous peoples. Indeed, Arguedas was as concerned about failings of the political status quo as were the writers of Puerto Rico's Generation of 1930, the irreverent Vargas Vila, and the early Gálvez. In Raza de bronce (1919) Arguedas portrays the exploitation of the Bolivian Indian by the oligarchy. Using the Bolivian landscape as a backdrop, Arguedas also describes Indian rites and customs.




Among intellectuals in Latin America at the turn of the century, there were multiple and contradictory ideas about what it meant to be modern, what it meant to belong to a particular Latin American nation, and what it meant to be a novelist in one of those nascent nations. For Díaz Rodríguez and the conservative intellectuals in Colombia, being modern meant a "regeneration"--a reactionary move. The scientific view was that of the naturalists and positivists, who were obviously unaware of how simplistically their Manichean schemes with their binary oppositions operated. Of course, some writers blurred the boundaries between this very binary opposition itself of modernismo versus realist-naturalist. However modern these writers liked to consider themselves, many of the social and political debates implied in their novels were intellectual outgrowths of the nineteenth century. And as one critic has pointed out near the end of the twentieth century, in retrospect, these "modern" authors employed a basically "masculinist aesthetic."


Writers such as Federico Gamboa and Manuel Gálvez were seduced by the exuberance of women as a way to fictionalize the contradictions of artistic experience and modernity. The generation of 1880 in Argentina was typical of groups in different parts of Latin America at the turn of the century: it attempted to curb female excess through technology, even though some of its writers were seduced by the potential of women as sex objects in their fictions.


As Jrade convincingly argues, modernismo represents Spanish America's full-fledged intellectual response and challenge to modernity. The resulting novelistic dialogue with the new modern values and ideas was complex because it was shaped by numerous conditions. In this period, novels such as Sicardi's Libro extraño and Gálvez's El mal metafísico were among those that set forth these complexities. Above all, the contradictions of these writers were evident, for neither their aesthetic nor ideological programs were consistent and coherent.


Discussions about the nation involved debates on the national novel and analyses of national character, and discourse on civilization versus barbarism remained strong at the turn of the century. Intellectuals of the generation of 1880 in Argentina, for example, began to analyze the national character as a case study for psychopathology; hygiene, public medicine, and sanitation were conceived to produce citizens both "clean of mind and body" and free of all traces of barbarism. The Peruvian Clorinda Matto de Turner was dismayed with the social unrest of her time, and she believed that the proper solution to most problems behind this chaos was a retreat to science and ethics.


In many regions of Indo-Afro-Iberoamerica, the debate that had begun about the "national" novel was an important prelude to the publication and acclaim of now-canonical novels in the 1920s and 1930s throughout Latin America. In the early part of the century, the literary conventions and thematic interests tended to be limited to the concerns of middle-class and upper- and middle-class male novelists who predominated in the literary scene. This was the case for both the modernistas and the realist-naturalist novelists. Consequently, it is not difficult to support the proposition that these novels were the product of a masculinist aesthetic.


The early-twentieth-century novel published in Latin America was ostensibly a hegemonic product of the upper middle class and dominated by males. Gálvez and Azuela were typical of the middle-class, well-educated writer who in some ways represented this hegemony, even though both writers occasionally questioned conventional bourgeois values. Nevertheless, there was a small and virtually invisible undercurrent of implicitly oppositional narratives authored by women writers who were marginalized by the literary establishment. The more successfully they appropriated male discourse and held the proper class credentials--as did Soledad Acosta de Samper--the less likely they were to be marginalized. Beneath the thin veneer of homogeneity among male writers, turn-of-the-century culture was strained by a minimally visible new heterogeneity. Both modernistas and realists, male and female, tended to question the values (and poor manners) of the new middle class. For this reason and other factors, the novel was a problematic genre at the beginning of the twentieth century.




“A truly comprehensive overview of the Spanish American novel from 1900 to 1999.”
Virginia Quarterly Review

““In what undoubtedly will be a very useful guide for students and established scholars alike, Williams presents a panoramic picture of the Latin American novel in the 20th century, a picture that is utterly convincing not only for its impressive breadth but also for the way Williams organizes it. Working with the category of ‘the modern’ and identifying the various responses to it from novelists throughout the region, the book’s five sections span the range from early post–Ruben Darian fiction to post-postmodern novels. In between, Williams presents a succinct and useful reading of both canonical and marginalized but aesthetically relevant writers from all periods. Particularly adroit is his discussion of the hegemony and ulterior demise of masculinist aesthetics as feminist and queer fiction emerged, particularly toward the end of the century. Additionally, discussion of Chicano writing attests to the book’s breadth and inclusiveness. Summing up: Essential.””

“This book would be of great value to any scholar in the area of Latin American literature. It is an exhaustive overview of the major works of the twentieth century, an dit also provides severeal more in-depth analyses of major works.”
Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

“Williams is among the very few scholars who are capable of producing such a sweeping perspective. . . . This study will be useful to specialized and non-specialized readers alike. For the latter, it provides a full grasp of the literary production coming out of Latin America during the entire twentieth century.”
Dick Gerdes, Professor of Spanish and Chair of Foreign Languages, University of Las Vegas


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