Vengeance with a Stickpin

Browsing through JSTOR the other day, a paper caught my eye: “Vengeance with a Stickpin: Barreto, Quiroga, And García Calderón,” by Daniel C. Scroggins. A stickpin, you say? Oh, that must be “El solitario” (The Solitare)! I love that story; it’s my favorite of the Quiroga pieces that I’ve translated. So of course, I had to read the paper.

Stickpin, circa 1911
Photo by Helena Bonnevier. Source: Wikimedia

Scroggins posits that “El solitario” (probably first published in 1913, collected in 1917), as well as the 1925 short story “El alfiler” by Peruvian author Ventura García Calderón, were both influenced by an earlier story, also titled “El alfiler” (The Stickpin), by Peruvian José María Barreto. Barreto published his story in the Uruguayan periodical Revista Nacional de Literatura y Ciencias Sociales in 1897; Quiroga, remember, was Uruguayan.

If you read Spanish, you can download the August 10, 1897 issue of Revista Nacional here; the story is on page 74. It’s quite short: about two columns of a three column layout. I also translated the story and put it up on Ephemera:

The story is not much more than a sketch; it’s supposed to be just an anecdote that one journalist tells to his colleages as they wait for some proofs to come back. The plot centers around some painfully patriarchal attitudes about the status of women as wives and daughters that are disagreeable for a modern reader. I’m not sure, but I think those attitudes, at least as manifested by the characters in the story, were supposed to be uncomfortable and outdated for the original late-nineteenth century reader as well. At least I want to think that.

Quiroga borrowed the stickpin scene and the motif of an unfaithful wife, but nothing else, from Barreto’s narrative. He then took these motifs and put them into a completely different, more character-driven, and arguably more interesting story. Scroggins writes, “Quiroga’s narrative is clearly superior,” and I agree. Mostly I’m sharing “El alfiler” as literary background for Quiroga’s story, because I like digging into things like this.

And I also learned that José María Barreto is remembered today for something far more important.

Jose Maria Barreto, Righteous Among the Nations
Jose Maria Barreto (1875-1948). Source: Righteous Among the Nations Database

In 1943, while serving as the Peruvian consul general in Switzerland, Barreto issued 27 Peruvian passports to 58 Jews, 14 of them children, in an attempt to save them from being sent to Auschwitz. This was in direct violation of official directives: in 1938, Peru had ordered its European consulates not to issue visas to foreign immigrants, “especially Jews.” Barreto’s humanitarian impulse cost him both his post and his position in the foreign ministry. He died in Switzerland in 1948.

In 2014, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, recognized Barreto as Righteous Among the Nations, the first Peruvian to be so honored.

May his strength and courage in making the moral choice be an inspiration to us all.


Scroggins, Daniel C. “Vengeance with a Stickpin: Barreto, Quiroga, And García Calderón,” Romance Notes, Vol. 15, No 1 (Autumn, 1973), pp 47-51. (JSTOR link)

“World Jewish Congress CEO honors Peruvian Saviour of Jews,” World Jewish Congress website, July 3, 2015.

“Yad Vashem Recognizes First Righteous Among the Nations from Peru,” Yad Vashem press release, June 12, 2014.

Entry for José María Barreto, Righteous Among the Nations database.

Wikipedia entry for José María Barreto. (Spanish)

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