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Volume 52 / Humanities


19th Century: Spanish American Literature Before Modernism

WILLIAM H. KATRA, Department of Spanish, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST memorable benchmark of the biennium was the 100th anniversary of the death of Domingo F. Sarmiento (1811-88), Argentina's great romantic writer, journalist, educator, constitutionalist, and statesman. While many of Sarmiento's beliefs and acts will always be the source of controversy, even his most stalwart opponents are humbled by his immense and multifaceted contributions. The invitation by the Argentine government to co-sponsor academic gatherings in honor of this great Latin American was eagerly embraced by a number of institutions: The Library of Congress in Washington, Boston College, The Univ. of Ottawa, and the Univ. of California at Berkeley, as well as several Argentine universities. However, only the Univ. Nacional de Comahue in Neuquén succeeded in publishing its conference proceedings (item bi 92007588) before our HLAS deadline.

Sarmiento's first of many claims to fame was as a writer, a fact that did not escape the editorial committees of several important journals who organized special issues commemorating his achievements in this field. Some of the finest critical material written to date about the man and his multifaceted writings, can be found in these special issues: Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos item bi 92007571), Revista Iberoamericana (item bi 92007682), and Todo es Historia (item bi 92007775). Given the large number of such essays in these journals, and in spite of their consistently high quality, it has not been possible to annotate all of them individually in this HLAS chapter.

Another notable trend among critical writings of this biennium has been a return to Latin America's most renowned writers of the 19th century, seeking either unexplored aspects of their oeuvre, or applying new critical approaches. After Sarmiento, the individual writers that attracted the most attention were José Martí (10 items), Andrés Bello (8 items), and José Hernández (4 items).

An entirely different trend has been the reissue of several old works, now largely forgotten, that nevertheless deserve a place in the cultural history of their countries or regions. These works can be roughly divided into two categories: 1) those whose initial impact was limited on account of regional as opposed to metropolitan theme or distribution; and 2) those whose popularity declined with the emergence of new literary tastes. Mexico has been especially active in this enterprise of literary archaeology, with the republication of works by Leduc (item bi 90007913), Peón y Contreras (item bi 90007894), Castra (item bi 90007914), Carpio (item bi 90007886), and F. Calderón (item bi 90007882). Similar editions feature female writers: Ecuador's Palmyra Franco Villagómez (item bi 90007889), and Colombia's Soledad Acosta de Samper (item bi 90007917).

And finally, three critical works deserve special mention here as perhaps the most outstanding of the biennium: David William Foster's The Argentine generation of 1880: ideology and cultural texts (item bi 92007572); Adolfo Prieto's El discurso criollista en la formación de la Argentina moderna (item bi 90007897); and Oscar Rivera-Rodas' La poesía hispanoamericana del siglo XIX: del romanticismo al modernismo (item bi 90007900). These three works, which exhibit entirely different critical methodologies, have in common an innovative focus and a profound understanding of the historical and sociological contexts out of which literary expression emerges.

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