Exploring the dark tales of this Uruguayan author.
I recently found Horacio Quiroga’s short story “The Dead Man” in Clifton Fadiman’s 1986 collection The World of the Short Story, and it’s given me a new hobby: tracking down all of his short stories that I can find.
I’ve seen Quiroga’s stories compared variously to Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, William Faulkner, and Rudyard Kipling; he himself acknowledged the influences of Poe, Kipling and de Maupassant on his work. Like Poe, he had a theory of the perfect short story (one he often contradicted in his own work). Also like Poe, and he was incredibly obsessed with death, and fascinated with madness as well.
This morbid viewpoint is not surprising, given Quiroga’s own life history. His father accidentally shot himself on a hunting trip and later his stepfather deliberately shot himself (apparently, Quiroga witnessed it). In 1900, when Quiroga would have been about twenty-one, his two brothers died of typhoid fever. The following year, one of Quiroga’s best friends, Federico Ferrando, was challenged to a duel. Since Ferrando knew nothing about guns, Quiroga offered to check Ferrando’s gun for him — and accidentally shot and killed Ferrando in the process. Though Quiroga was found innocent of any crime, his own feelings of guilt led him to leave his native Uruguay for Argentina.
In Buenos Aires he worked as a teacher. He also became fascinated with the jungle, eventually buying a farm in the jungle province of Misiones. This fascination with the jungle, in particular its indifference to human life, informs a great deal of his work (shades of Algernon Blackwood’s Canadian tales!). In 1909 he married one of his students, Ana Maria Cires. The couple moved out of the city to Quiroga’s farm, where they had two children. But this wilderness life didn’t suit Ana, and in 1915 she poisoned herself.
It was about this time that Quiroga wrote the short story collections that established his reputation, the 1917 collection Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte (Tales of Love, Madness and Death) and the 1918 collection of children’s tales, Cuentos de la selva (Tales of the Jungle). Cuentos de amor… is, well, just like it says: stories of obsession, madness, failed relationships, brutal and deadly jungle life. Cuentos de la selva is lighter-hearted: tales of humans and animals coexisting in the jungle, sort of a less imperialistic Jungle Book. It’s delightful—but there is still plenty of death and violence. I’m not sure if parents would be recommending it for their children, today. Quiroga also uses the device of telling a story through the eyes of animals in some of his adult stories, as well, though not always as benignly.
Throughout the twenties Quiroga put out several more short story collections: Anaconda (1921), El desierto (The Desert, 1924), and Los desterrados (The Exiled, 1926), which is said to be his best collection. In addition to his usual themes of death and of brutal, unforgiving jungle life, it’s no surprise that death by accidental shooting shows up a few times as well, in particular in “El hombre muerto” (“The Dead Man” — from Los desterrados), and “El hijo” (“The Son” — from the 1935 collection Más allá (Further On)).
Quiroga married again in 1928 (to one of his daughter’s classmates!), and settled with her in Misiones. She left him about 1935, and a few years later Quiroga was diagnosed with terminal prostrate cancer. He committed suicide by poison in 1937. He was 58.
Though Quiroga is considered one of the fathers of the Latin American short story, he seems less well known in Anglophone countries than the Argentinian magical realists who came after him. I found a couple of volumes of selected stories in translation, both from the University of Texas Press: The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories (originally published 1976) and The Exiles and Other Stories (originally published 1987). Much of his work has fallen into the public domain (at least somewhere), and you can find it readily online in Spanish. I’ve been itching to try some more translations, for practice; so far I’ve done two of Quiroga’s stories, and I hope to do more.
“El almohadón de plumas” (The Feather Pillow) is one of Quiroga’s earlier stories, originally published in 1904, later included in Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte. I think every amateur who has ever tried translating Quiroga has taken a crack at this one, first of all because it’s short, and second because its ending packs quite a punch. It’s a good first introduction to his work, as well.
“El Solitario” (The Solitaire) is also from Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte. When I first saw the title I read it as “The Loner” (or “The Solitary Man”) — Google will translate it as “The Lonely Man.” I suspect that the double meaning between solitario as “solitary man” and “diamond solitaire” is not accidental. This is not a jungle story, but it’s certainly a tale of love and madness.
Do check them out. I hope you enjoy them. I’ll update here at Multo as I complete more stories.
If you are up for the original Spanish, you can find much of Quiroga’s writing at Spanish Wikisource. Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte and an English translation of Cuentos de la selva (as South American Jungle Tales) are at Project Gutenberg.
You can also find a few of Quiroga’s stories, translated, at the Translated Works of Horacio Quiroga site. I plan to try to keep my selections mostly separate from theirs, but there are few stories that I really like, and I might do them myself, anyway.
If you like Poe, de Maupassant, or generally have a taste for the morbid, do check Horacio Quiroga out.
Arrechedora, Iraima. “Horacio Quiroga: Biografía, Obras y Premios Recibidos,” lefeder.com
Encylopedia Britannica entry on Horacio Quiroga.
Fadiman, Clifton. Introduction to “The Dead Man,” The World of the Short Story, edited by Clifton Fadiman, Houghton Mifflin, 1986.
Wikipedia entry on Horacio Quiroga.