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New Left Review 102, November-December 2016


efraín kristal

SARMIENTO’S MASTERPIECE

Facundo and the Latin American Novel

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento wrote Facundo: Or, Civilization and Barbarism (1845) when the Spanish American novel was in its earliest stages: the Romance of Chivalry and other profane narrative genres had been proscribed by royal decree in the Iberian transatlantic viceroyalties as early as 1531. [1] Domingo Faustino Sarmiento: born 1811 in San Juan, in the western highlands of present-day Argentina. A publicist and educator, he fought for a modernizing, unitary republic against the federalist forces of Juan Facundo Quiroga (1788–1835) and Juan Manuel Rosas (1793–1877). After Rosas’s accession to power in Buenos Aires, Sarmiento was driven into exile in Chile, where he founded the newspaper El Progreso in which Facundo would be serialized. In 1855 he returned to Argentina to become editor-in-chief of El Nacional. Entering politics, he served as President from 1868 to 1874, then Director of Schools; he died in Asunción in 1888. The present essay originally appeared in Italian translation in Franco Moretti, ed., Il romanzo, vol. 2, Turin 2002, and is published here for the first time in English. With independence the novel could be practised freely, but unlike Brazil, which in Machado de Assis can boast a world-class novelist, Spanish America did not produce many novels of literary merit in the nineteenth century. Facundo is not strictly a novel, and yet many critics have accorded it a greater significance than they have to any other Spanish American narrative work of the period—including José Marmol’s Amalia (1851), arguably the first Argentine novel.

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