Francis Cairns Publications

Liverpool Monographs in Hispanic Studies 7

A History of Peruvian Literature

James Higgins

LMHS 7. ISBN 978-0-905205-35-9. Cloth. xiv+379pp. 1987.

Extract   Reviews

Peru, which in this century has produced world-renowned novelists of the stature of Mario Vargas Llosa and José María Arguedas, and poets such as the avant-garde CésarVallejo, possesses a distinctive and varied literary culture of great intrinsic value.

Peru's Spanish colonial past connects it to the mainstream of Western literature; but native traditions have survived and continue to flourish, both in Quechua and in Spanish. Attempts to evade the colonial heritage gave rise to a literature which at first was limited to expressing the ethos of Lima's middle classes, but later broadened out to reflect regional values and give a voice to marginal sectors in Peruvian society.

A History of Peruvian Literature sets in context and appraises, with ample quotation and analysis, all of the more significant Peruvian writings from the Renaissance onwards. The native tradition, the colonial period and the nineteenth century are the subjects of the first three chapters; then four chapters are devoted to the twentieth century, when Peruvian literary output is astonishing in its range, adventurousness and quality. All Spanish quoted is translated into English, the poetry in James Higgins' excellent verse; full bibliographies are provided for each author discussed.



1 THE NATIVE TRADITION: Quechua Literature from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present Day


I. Prose and Drama in the Colonial Period
II. Poetry in the Colonial Period


I. Fiction in the Republican Era
II. Drama and Poetry in the Republican Era

4 THE BIRTH OF A LITERATURE (c.1915-c.1941)

I. Regionalist Fiction and the Establishment of a Novelistic Tradition
II. The Poetic Avant-Garde

5 THE BLOSSOMING (c.1940-c.1970)

I. The New Narrative
II. Poetry Pure and Impure



1. The New Narrative Mark II
II. The New Poetry

Glossary; List of Abbreviations; Bibliography; Index of Principal Authors; Index of Principal Works


(from pp.280-81) Though his work has received little critical attention, Pablo Guevara (b. 1930) anticipated later developments in Peruvian poetry and was a major influence on the new generations of poets who emerged in the sixties and seventies. ...

Guevara's European experience is reflected in Los habirantes and in Crónicas contra los bribones (1967). In the great cities of the old continent he was to find himself at the heart of a civilisation which had imposed its values, institutions and way of life on the world, a civilisation based on the senseless pursuit of wealth and power, on selfish rapaciousness and cruel domination, a civilisation which, he felt, not only inflicted untold material hardship and suffering on the weak and defenceless but stifled and distorted the development of the human personality. Thus, though he understands full well that it is institutionalised violence which ensures the survival of that order, he voices in "Los burgueses son bestias" the sadness and outrage of a man unable to conceive how a system so manifestly absurd and inhuman should have persisted down through the ages:

 Oh mundo de la necesidad,
¿eres acaso inmortal?
"Los burgueses son bestias,
los burgueses son bestias,"
lo digo cada día, pero es
por los ejércitos del mundo
que el Orden Burgués supervive.

Nunca lo dejé de saber,
nunca lo dejé de saber,
pero debo poder enfrentarme
al rinoceronte que bufa
en Place Vendôme desde 1871
– año de derrota de la Comuna –,
a través de las mareas
que ascienden y descienden,
¡años de la crueldad y la estupidez!

(Oh world of necessity,
are you perhaps eternal?
"The bourgeois are beasts,
the bourgeois are beasts,"
I repeat every day, yet it's
because of the world's armies
that the bourgeois order survives.

I've never ceased to be aware of it,
I've never ceased to be aware of it,
but I have to be able to face the rhinoceros that's been bellowing
in Place Vendôme since 1871
– the year the Commune was defeated –,
across the tides
that ebb and flow,
years of cruelty and stupidity!)

Yet in a world blighted by the evils of capitalism, art is seen as an affirmation of life in poems like "Botticelli" and "Giotto", and in others lovers are conceived as waging a resistance campaign in defence of human values. Crónicas contra los bribones, dedicated to "the child and woman, divine", raises up ordinary human love and family life in opposition to the ruthless scheming of the ambitious. Significantly, "Nietos y abuelos", the closing poem of the book and one set in Peru, contrasts the peaceful contentment of humble fisherfolk bringing back a hard-earned catch with the piracy by which capitalist entrepreneurs make their profits.



Times Higher Education Supplement 17 April 1987 (William Rowe): "... a wide range of writers are [sic] included, giving a sense of the variety of this literature as well as providing the scholarly reader with a useful compendium of bibliographical and other information. On the other hand, sufficient space is allocated to major authors ... to allow a reasonably detailed examination of major works."

Times Literary Supplement 4 Sept. 1987 (Gordon Brotherston): "as a reference work which begins by asking the basic question "What is Peruvian literature?", this new history makes a necessary and trustworthy guide."

Modern Language Review 84 (1989) 766-7 (Steven Boldy): "an admirably executed and extremely useful and valuable item, and will be a standard reference in its field."

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 66 (1989) 99-100 (Philip Swanson): "… this book is a major critical achievement. Those readers requiring an introduction to internationally famous authors like Vallejo and Vargas Llosa will be more than satisfied. Those looking for a more general survey will not be disappointed. There is no attempt to be comprehensive, but this creates the advantage that the main authors and works are dealt with at sufficient length to arouse our interest ... a genuinely new contribution to the field by an acknowledged authority."

Iberoamericana 12 (1988) 111-12 (Christa Welzel): "In seiner gut verständlichen inhaltlichen Präsentation ist das Buch als Kompendium eine wertvolle Hilfe, peruanische Literatur zu verstehen."