José Donoso Essay - Donoso, José (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Donoso, José (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


José Donoso 1924-1996

Chilean novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, journalist, and translator.

The following entry provides criticism on Donoso's works from 1975 through 2000. See also Jose Donoso Criticism (Volume 4), and Volumes 8, 11, 32, 99.

José Donoso was known as the best Chilean novelist of his generation. His complex, multi-layered fiction encompassed the best of the “the Boom” period in Spanish American literature during the 1960s and 1970s and beyond.

Biographical Information

Donoso was born on October 5, 1924, in Santiago, Chile, to a physician's family of unstable fortunes. When Donoso's hopes for a substantial inheritance were dashed, he spent some time wandering about the country, even taking a job as a shepherd. Eventually he attended the University of Chile and Princeton University and became an English teacher, at the same time struggling to get his first works published in the provincial cultural environment of Chile. Journalistic assignments in Santiago and Mexico City, as well as teaching opportunities at Princeton and Dartmouth College, broadened his horizons. He began to be recognized as a writer of substance during the 1960s. In 1961 he married Maria del Pilar Serrano, a translator. Escaping from the stifling of creativity by the Marxist government in Chile, Donoso began a period of voluntary exile in 1964, spending time in Mexico and at the University of Iowa before settling in Spain. By the mid-1980s he had returned to his native land and in 1990 received Chile's highest literary award, the Chilean National Literature Prize. He died of cancer on December 7, 1996.

Major Works

Critics not that it is difficult to characterize Donoso's work, which is a complex mixture of pessimism, social commentary, and observations on the relationship between an artist and his creations. His works reflect, without didactic intent, the tensions between rich and poor and the political upheaval which has characterized Chile from the Marxist Salvador Allende period in the 1960s to the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet beginning in the 1970s. Donoso's first novel, Coronación (1957; Coronation), partly a portrait of his insane grandmother, combines realism and fantasy. A second novel, Este Domingo (1966; This Sunday), explores the chasm between rich and poor with subtlety and sophistication and experiments with differing points of view. El lugar sin límites (1966; Hell Has No Limits), a novella, is an extremely pessimistic commentary on the futility of human effort. Donoso's greatest novel, El obsceno pájaro de la noche (1970; The Obscene Bird of Night), is a dreamlike exploration of the mind of a schizophrenic. After the success of The Obscene Bird of Night Donoso wrote his own account of the literary history of his times, Historia personal del “boom” (1977; The “Boom” in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History). During his period of exile, Donoso's style began to veer away from dreams and hallucinations. In 1978 he produced Casa de campo (A House in the Country), a political allegory with echoes of the repressive Pinochet takeover of Chile. La desesperanza (1986; The Curfew), a novel written after his return to Chile, concerns the fate of the political left in the Pinochet period. Two later novellas, combined in Taratuta; Naturaleza muerta con cachimba (1990; Taratuta; and, Still Life with Pipe), explore the interaction between art and reality—in particular, the intricate relationship between the artist and his creations.

Critical Reception

Today recognized as the greatest Chilean novelist of his time, Donoso had difficulty getting his early work published and reviewed. Critics at first labelled him one of the so-called “Generation of 1950”—a group of well-educated, middle-class writers who moved fiction in Chile from a preoccupation with nativism to a newfound cosmopolitanism—and categorized him as a writer of “new novels” which combined both realistic and fantastical elements. Little English-language criticism appeared on Donoso until the translation of Coronation in 1965. The publication of The Obscene Bird of Night in 1973 and a full-length bio-critical study of Donoso in 1979 further encouraged scholarly work on Donoso in English. Critics have often disagreed over whether Donoso was directly criticizing the Allende or Pinochet regimes in Chile, or simply chronicling the decline of personal creativity or the existential angst of individuals in difficult circumstances. Critical approaches to Donoso's work have been as diverse and complex as Donoso's own fictional output. Earlier English-language critics outlined prominent themes in Donoso's work and pointed out the ways in which he expressed a particular “Latin American” consciousness. Other critics used structuralist theory or commented on Donoso's fluid use of narrative techniques. A number of critics have used a comparative literature or intertextual approach to connect Donoso with other literary traditions. Still others have engaged in psychoanalytic, mythological, existential, reader-response, or deconstructive criticism. After 1970 Donoso was often called “postmodern” since his work increasingly relied on ambiguity, inner-directedness, a non-integrated subject, a fragmented narrative, and the interweaving of fantasy and reality. Many critics have agreed that a central theme in Donoso's work is a condemnation of the world of social convention which prevents an individual from achieving self-fulfillment. The sheer volume, variety, and intellectual richness of Donoso criticism since 1965 seem to reinforce Donoso's own stated wish to avoid “simplification.”

Principal Works

Veranea y otros cuentos [Summertime and Other Stories] (short stories) 1955

Dos cuentos [Two Stories] (short stories) 1956

Coronación [Coronation] (novel) 1957

El charlestón [Charleston and Other Stories] (short stories) 1960

El lugar sin límites [Hell Has No Limits] (novella) 1966

Este domingo [This Sunday] (novel) 1966

El obsceno pájaro de la noche [The Obscene Bird of Night] (novel) 1970

Cuentos (short stories) 1971

Historia personal del “boom” [The “Boom” in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History] (literary history) 1977

*Tres novelitas burguesas [Sacred Families: Three Novellas] (novellas) 1977

Casa de campo [A House in the Country] (novel) 1978

El jardín de al lado [The Garden Next Door] (novel) 1981

La misteriosa desaparición de la Marquesita de Loria (novel) 1981

Poemas de un novelista (poetry) 1981

Cuatro para Delfina [Four for Delfina] (novellas) 1982

Sueños de mala muerte [Dreams of a Bad Death] (play) 1985

Seis cuentos para ganar (short stories) 1985

La desesperanza [The Curfew] (novel) 1986

Taratuta; Naturaleza muerta con cachimba [Taratuta; and, Still Life with Pipe: Two Novellas] (novellas) 1990

Donde van a morir los elefantes (novel) 1994

*This collection contains the novellas “Chatanooga Choo-choo,” “Green Atom Number Five,” and “Gaspard de la Nuit.”


Harley D. Oberhelman (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: Oberhelman, Harley D. “José Donoso and the ‘Nueva Narrativa.’” Revista de Estudios Hispanicos 9 (1975): 107-17.

[In the following essay, Oberhelman says that Donoso's El obsceno pájaro de la noche shows both a concern for national social problems and an adherence to the so-called “new narrative” of contemporary Spanish American letters which combines realistic and metaphysical elements.]

The latest novel of José Donoso, El obsceno pájaro de la noche, is a complex statement of the metaphysical problems faced by humanity in the twentieth century. Published in 1970 at a time when Chile's political system was turning to state socialism in search of solutions to age-old nagging social and economic injustices, a careful reading of Donoso's text reveals a deep concern for national problems and at the same time marks the author as a major practitioner of the “nueva narrativa” in contemporary Spanish American letters.

Donoso, whose Coronación (1958), Este domingo (1966), and El lugar sin límites (1967) announced his principal theme, the inner world of the collapsing Chilean oligarchy, achieves a masterpiece of major proportions with El obsceno pájaro, a work which required some eight years to produce. It is clearly within the current of the innovative Spanish American novel of today in its cataloguing of the decline of bourgeois systems and values and in its creation of a new realism based on multiple mutations of the author's (and the reader's) creative imagination. There is a double axis on which Donoso's concept of reality is based; the novel moves simultaneously on an exterior and an interior plane, leading eventually to a negation of both levels of action. A new socio-economic system must replace the exterior reality of Chilean life just as the negation of the traditional protagonist points the way toward new novelistic forms.

The great complexity of El obsceno pájaro offers the critic a variety of approaches to its interpretation. The present study will limit itself to a consideration of the aforementioned dual aspects of exterior and interior reality which form the framework, as it were, of this innovative work. Action in the novel is fragmented so that the reader must constantly reconstruct the basic thread: a history in retrospect of the wealthy, landed Azcoitía family and especially of the family's charitable asylum for aging women, the Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales de la Encarnación de la Chimba. The origin of the Casa is lost in centuries of myth and folklore, but it was most certainly founded as a refuge by eighteenth century progenitors of the Azcoitía family for their only daughter who was described diversely by regional folklore as a witch, a deeply religious saint, or the mother of a bastard child. Through various generations the Casa remained in the hands of the family's male heir while the Church enjoyed usufructuary rights to the institution. Don Jerónimo de Azcoitía and his wife, Inés Santillana de Azcoitía, are the twentieth century heirs to the refuge and its forty old women, three nuns, and five orphans.

A second important setting in the novel is La Rinconada, Don Jerónimo's own artificial world created as a home for his son who was born a distorted monster. La Rinconada has a complete staff of servants, administrators, workers, and a doctor, who themselves are all carefully selected monsters. Boy, the Azcoitías' only issue, is therefore to grow up in a hermetically sealed environment where the grotesque is the norm, and where his own horribly deformed face and body will never cause him unhappiness or anxiety.

If the principal purpose of the contemporary Spanish American novel is to chronicle the profound transformations which are causing a restructuring of a whole society,”1 then this latest novel of Donoso fully measures up to the assignment. While it fails to offer dramatic linguistic innovations such as those seen in Julio Cortázar's Rayuela and Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres tristes tigres, it does create an effective picture of the decay of an entire society similar in many respects to the vision of Macondo in Gabriel García Márquez and of Comala in Juan Rulfo.

Chile at the time of the action of most of the novel, roughly the decade prior to 1970, was still effectively in the hands of an oligarchy, which in the words of the author had been “incapaz de reunir más que mugres aquí.”2 If the Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales is to be considered the primary legacy of the Azcoitía family, this affirmation is entirely apropos. The decrepit existence of the forty old women, whose interminable monologues and dialogues fill nearly two hundred pages, can be reduced to the musty packages containing their nondescript earthly possessions which each jealously guards beneath her bed. Hanging over the Casa is the threat that Don Jerónimo may never produce a male heir and that at any time he may decide to demolish this monument to his family's eleemosynary concern and subdivide and sell the land it occupies.

There are rays of hope, however. Inés, Don Jerónimo's wife, is in Rome, ostensibly for the purpose of convincing the Holy See that the Azcoitía ancestor for whom the institution was originally founded should be beatified and ultimately canonized. Such action would most certainly save the Casa, and at the same time it would seem appropriate for a family whose right to a giant's share of Chile's land and wealth is considered divine: “El repartió las fortunas según él creyó justo, y dio a los pobres sus placeres sencillos y a nosotros nos cargó con las obligaciones que nos hacen Sus representantes sobre la tierra. Sus mandamientos prohíben atentar contra Su orden divino …” (Pájaro, p. 174) Rome, nevertheless, fails to grant this signal recognition to the Azcoitía family, which would incidentally have been a boon to Don Jerónimo's candidacy to the national congress.

It is through Don Jerónimo's secretary, one Humberto Peñaloza, that the complicated relationship between exterior and interior reality in the novel comes into focus. Peñaloza is one form of a multiple protagonist whose constant metamorphoses create a series of unusual characters: Mudito, the mute caretaker of the Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales; a yellow dog which follows one of the orphans from the Casa, Iris Mateluna, on a series of nocturnal wanderings through the streets of Santiago; Iris Mateluna's “miraculously” conceived baby; one of the old women in the Casa, the seventh in an unholy coterie organized to care for Iris' baby; a humid spot on the wall—the mutations are endless. Other cases of the multiple protagonist will be pointed out later, but the Humberto Peñaloza episode is of special significance in the question of social and economic injustice.

The son of an impoverished elementary school professor, Peñaloza was from the days of his childhood faced with the desire to be “someone,” to escape from the limbo of the masses. But an insurmountable barrier stood between the masses and the Chilean middle class; few were able to reach this promised land where there existed the possibility of a dignified career. Peñaloza vividly recalls the first time he laid eyes on the debonaire figure of Don Jerónimo de Azcoitía shortly after his return from Europe and just prior to his marriage to Inés Santillana. Peñaloza makes the inevitable comparison: “Yo, en cambio, no era nada ni nadie” (Pájaro, p. 105).

It is years later during Don Jerónimo's congressional campaign that the cleavage between the oligarchy and the masses reaches its climax. Peñaloza, now his secretary, accompanies him to a mountain village where the rival Radical party has aroused the miners and where the boxes containing the ballots were stolen during the course of the election. The situation is tense. Don Jerónimo as a representantive of the Conservative...

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John M. Lipski (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: Lipski, John M. “‘Evolution Through Paradox: El obsceno pájaro de la noche and Casa de campo.’” In The Creative Process in the Works of José Donoso edited by Guillermo I. Castillo-Feliú, pp. 35-46. Rock Hill, S.C.: Winthrop Studies on Major Modern Writers, 1982.

[In the following essay, Lipski examines two of Donoso's best-known novels, articulating their intertextuality and their intended interactions with the reader.]

Like the majority of other major writers of his generation, José Donoso has been at work creating an extensive intertext, not through overlapping plots and characters but rather by means of a progressive narrative...

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Philip Swanson (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Swanson, Philip. “Concerning the Criticism of the Work of José Donoso.” Revista Interamericana de Bibliografia/Inter-American Review of Bibliography 33 (1983): 355-65.

[In the following essay, Swanson reviews criticism on Donoso through the early 1980s.]

The last decade or so has seen a proliferation of critical articles on José Donoso. During this period, differing critical attitudes have emerged and there is as yet no general consensus of opinion on the meaning of his fiction, or on the best ways to approach his work. It is proposed here to examine briefly some trends in Donoso criticism and to suggest some possible developments. My intention is to...

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Philip Swanson (essay date January 1985)

SOURCE: Swanson, Philip. “Binary Elements in El obsceno pájaro de la noche.Revista de Estudios Hispanicos 19, no. 1 (January 1985): 101-16.

[In the following essay, Swanson examines duality as a central organizing principle of El obsceno pájaro de la noche.]

A notable feature of much recent criticism on José Donoso's El obsceno pájaro de la noche is the number of references to the text's inherent duality. Isis Quinteros sees the mythical level of the novel as being organized around a series of “relaciones en oposición binaria,”1 while Adriana Valdés has commented that: “es constante la estructuración anverso/reverso en la...

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Pamela Bacarisse (essay date January 1986)

SOURCE: Bacarisse, Pamela. “El obsceno pájaro de la noche: The Novelist as Victim.” The Modern Language Review 81, no. 1 (January 1986): 82-96.

[In the following essay, Bacarisse examines Donoso's narrative devices to discover the relation of the narrator to the author, as well as the dominant emotional state in El obsceno pájaro de la noche.]

… es como si él mismo se hubiera perdido para siempre en el laberinto que iba inventando lleno de oscuridad y terrores con más consistencia que él mismo. …1

One of the fundamental problems when reading José Donoso's El obsceno pájaro de...

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Philip Swanson (essay date July 1986)

SOURCE: Swanson, Philip. “Structure and Meaning in La misteriosa desaparición de la marquesita de Loria.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 63, no. 3 (July 1986): 247-56.

[In the following essay, Swanson describes La misteriosa desaparición de la marquesita de Loria as a metaphor that masks its complexity.]

Donoso's seventh novel, La misteriosa desaparición de la marquesita de Loria, is at first sight a surprising departure from the author's profound, intellectual outlook. Humberto Rivas sees it merely as ‘un divertimiento de José Donoso’, a light-hearted sexual fantasy whose tasteful treatment never threatens ‘el tono festivo de toda la...

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José Donoso and Amalia Pereira (interview date July-December 1987)

SOURCE: Donoso, José, and Amalia Pereira. “Interview with José Donoso.” Latin American Literary Review 15, no. 30 (July-December 1987): 57-67.

[In the following interview, Donoso talks about such topics as his literary education, changes in his literary techniques, other Latin American writers, and his attitudes toward exile and toward the political situation in Chile.]

The following interview was conducted at [the home of José Donoso] in Santiago on August 4, 1986.

[Amalia Peroira]: Some of your earliest stories, such as “The Poisoned Pastries” and “The Blue Woman,” were written in English when you were a student at Princeton...

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Priscilla Meléndez (essay date fall 1987)

SOURCE: Meléndez, Priscilla. “Writing and Reading the Palimpsest: Donoso's El jardín de al lado.” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures 41, no. 3 (fall 1987): 200-13.

[In the following essay, Meléndez discusses the multiple texts and subtexts of El jardín de al lado.]

To introduce the concept of palimpsest in a technological and computerized era might be perceived as an unnecessary irony or as the sign of reliance on an already exhausted metaphor. But the proliferation of intertexts, both perceptible and veiled, in José Donoso's El jardín de al lado (1981) reveals an archaic system, the palimpsest, linked to a process of...

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Alfred J. MacAdam (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: MacAdam, Alfred J. “Countries of the Mind: Literary Space in Joseph Conrad and José Donoso.” In Textual Confrontations: Comparative Readings in Latin American Literature, pp. 61-87. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

[In the following chapter from his book on comparative literature, MacAdam compares and contrasts Joseph Conrad's Nostromo and Donoso's A House in the Country, finding in each work a break with literary tradition.]

[Jorge Luis] Borges begins his 1938 review of Absalom, Absalom! by comparing Faulkner to Joseph Conrad:

I know of two kinds of writer: one whose obsession is verbal...

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Lucille Kerr (essay date summer 1988)

SOURCE: Kerr, Lucille. “Conventions of Authorial Design: José Donoso's Casa de campo.” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literature 42, no. 2 (summer 1988): 133-52.

[In the following essay, Kerr analyzes the metafictional elements of Casa de campo.]

In José Donoso's Casa de Campo the conventions of reading mimetic fiction confront the conventions of reading reflexive writing. The novel juxtaposes and turns between at least two apparently distinct modes of discourse, two seemingly disparate ways of reading and writing narrative fiction. The fictions proposed by Casa de campo take us from a reading of the novel as a reflexive...

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Marie Murphy (essay date January-June 1989)

SOURCE: Murphy, Marie. “Language Put-On: José Donoso's A House in the Country.” Latin American Literary Review 17, no. 33 (January-June 1989): 50-59.

[In the following essay, Murphy discusses the metafictional purposes of Donoso's use of the mise en abyme structure in A House in the Country.]

While the Latin American new narrative interrogates many aspects of self-consciousness, within this tradition, José Donoso's A House in the Country provides one of the most exhaustive examinations of the art of the novel, overtly juxtaposing realistic and post-modern techniques. In this study, I examine the most evident display in A House in...

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Juan Carlos Lértora (essay date spring-summer 1989)

SOURCE: Lértora, Juan Carlos. “José Donoso's Narrative: The Other Side of Language.” Salmagundi 82-83 (spring-summer 1989): 258-68.

[In the following essay, Lértora addresses Donoso's questioning of the traditional functions of narrative fiction in light of Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnival.]

A characteristic trait of the narrative produced by Spanish American writers like Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Julio Cortázar, G. Cabrera Infante, M. Vargas Llosa, and José Donoso, is its attempt to explore human experience by way of the secret codes associated with the instincts, the unconscious and magic. The discourse that founds these narratives is situated in the...

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Antonio Benítez Rojo (essay date summer 1992)

SOURCE: “The Obscene Bird of Night as a Spiritual Exercise.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 12, no. 2 (summer 1992): 50-55.

[In the following essay, Rojo discusses the survival of the individual in the seemingly hopeless world of The Obscene Bird of Night.]

From time to time, in accordance with the prescription of the majority of the world's religions, all believers must perform a ritual of self-annihilation. This has to do, of course, with the enactment of death. Accordingly, practices such as fasting, sexual abstinence, physical penitence, silence, worldly withdrawal, and meditation often play a role. In general, these practices not only limit to a...

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Djelal Kadir (essay date summer 1992)

SOURCE: Kadir, Djelal. “Next Door: Writing Elsewhere.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 12, no. 2 (summer 1992): 60-69.

[In the following essay, Kadir deconstructs the theme of the “other place” in The Garden Next Door, drawing parallels to the work of Dante, T. S. Eliot, Henry James, and George Eliot.]

Next door is always in another space, another yearned-for place of the other yearning in perpetual unsituatedness. Writing's difficulty must inevitably be brooked in the writing. The predicament finds no necessary and sufficient conditions of absolution or amelioration in its predication. The assuasive slave does not reside in what is written but in...

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Alicia Borinsky (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Borinsky, Alicia. “Closing the Book—Dogspeech: José Donoso.” In Theoretical Fables: The Pedagogical Dream in Contemporary Latin American Fiction, pp. 118-31. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

[In this chapter from her full-length study of several contemporary Latin American writers, Borinsky takes a deconstructive approach to several works by Donoso, with particular reference to images of dogs as representations of omniscient hopelessness.]


García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera offers its French-speaking parrot as a way of parodying the continuation of francophilia with...

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Sharon Magnarelli (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Magnarelli, Sharon. “How to Read José Donoso.” In Understanding José Donoso, pp. 3-13. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

[In the following introductory chapter to her full-length study of Donoso, Magnarelli discusses several common themes in Donoso's work.]

Critics disagree, often vehemently, about how to read the works of José Donoso. Many, particularly his early critics, have insisted on perceiving his works in a traditional, realistic, or naturalistic mode, specifically as social realism whose goal is to critique the Chilean bourgeois society. Donoso maintains, and it would be hard for the careful reader to disagree, that on some...

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Sharon Magnarelli (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Magnarelli, Sharon. “Sacred Families: Reading and Writing Power.” In Understanding José Donoso, pp. 119-32. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, Magnarelli explores the ways in which Donoso's ostensibly realistic portrayal of bourgeois life in Sacred Families actually conceals a more complex examination of the power of representational aesthetic works.]

Although Tres novelitas burguesas (Sacred Families, literally “Three Bourgeois Novellas”), published in 1973 by Seix Barral, returns to the shorter genres of Donoso's earlier career, it nonetheless proffers a prolongation and...

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José Donoso and Nivea Montenegro and Enrico Mario Santi (interview date April 1994)

SOURCE: Donoso, José, Nivea Montenegro, and Enrico Mario Santi. “A Conversation with José Donoso.” New Novel Review/Nouveau roman 1, no. 2 (April 1994): 7-15.

[In the following interview, Donoso speaks about his life, the history of the “Boom” period, and aspects of postmodernism.]

[Nivia Montenegro]: José Donoso's distinguished writing career began in the 1950's when he published his first short stories in his native Chile, and since then he has piled success upon success, both in Latin America and in the rest of the world with his many novels, most of which have been translated into several languages. No serious reader or scholar of modern Latin...

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Scott Pollard (essay date January-June 1995)

SOURCE: Pollard, Scott. “Gender, Aesthetics and the Struggle for Power in José Donoso's El obsceno pájaro de la noche.Latin American Literary Review 23, no. 45 (January-June 1995): 18-42.

[In the following essay, Pollard demonstrates how Donoso posits and then subverts the notion of patriarchy as the basis for Chilean society.]

Majority implies a state of domination, not the reverse. It is not a question of knowing whether there are more mosquitos or flies than men, but of knowing how “man” constituted a standard in the universe in relation to which men necessarily (analytically) form a majority. The majority in a government...

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Philip Swanson (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Swanson, Philip. “José Donoso and La misteriosa desaparición de la marquesita de Loria.” In The New Novel in Latin America: Politics and Popular Culture after the Boom, pp. 92-113. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

[In the following chapter from his book on Latin American literature after the “Boom,” Swanson presents a semiotic reading of La misteriosa desaparición de la marquesita de Loria, including commentary on the ideas of previous critics of the work.]

In a newspaper article in 1982, José Donoso lamented the almost exclusive association of Latin American fiction with long, complex, experimental, ‘totalising’...

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Janet Pérez (essay date January 1997)

SOURCE: Pérez, Janet. “Masks, Gender Expectations, Machismo and (Criss) Cross-Gender Writing in the Fiction of José Donoso.” Hispanofila 119 (January 1997): 47-58.

[In the following essay, Pérez analyzes the way Donoso critiques gender stereotyping and the cult of machismo by using cross-gender themes and symbols in his writing.]

Criticism of Donoso to date has tended to categorize his works as social realism or even neo-naturalism during an early period up to the late 1960s and publication of El obsceno pájaro de la noche, [hereafter abbreviated EOPN] and as experimental thereafter. Those novels published after EOPN—a work so...

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Mary Lusky Friedman (essay date summer 1999)

SOURCE: Friedman, Mary Lusky. “The Genesis of La desesperanza by José Donoso.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 23, no. 2 (summer 1999): 255-74.

[In the following essay, Friedman examines the working notes for La desesperanza and concludes that the novel evolved from Donoso's preoccupation with the ambivalence between parents and children and the possibility of identity transformed.]

These days a special apology must be made for studying the process by which a writer makes a literary text. So politically incorrect has it become to consider a writer's intentions that some critics nowadays not only look askance at a writer's diaries and notes...

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Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola (essay date March 2000)

SOURCE: Herrero-Olaizola, Alejandro. “Consuming Aesthetics: José Donoso in the Field of Latin American Literary Production.” Modern Language Notes 115, no. 2 (March 2000): 323-39.

[In the following essay, Herrero-Olaizola uses Donoso's novel El jardín de al lado as a commentary on the cultural production of the “Boom” period, with special attention to the influence of the Seix Barral publishing company.]

In spite of the disagreements on how to interpret and contextualize the publishing accomplishments of the “Boom” writers, almost everyone would acknowledge the need to ask how the institutions of literature—editors, literary agents, scholars,...

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Further Reading


Baker, Robert. “José Donoso's El obsceno pájaro de la noche: Thoughts on ‘Schizophrenic’ Form.” Revista de Estudios Hispanicos 26, no. 1 (January 1992): 37-60.

Examines what El obsceno pájaro de la noche suggest about “the postmodern historical moment.”

Feal, Rosemary Geisdorfer. “Veiled Portraits: Donoso's Interartistic Dialogue in El jardín de al lado. MLN 103, no. 2 (March 1988): 398-418.

Discusses the connection between the masked narrator in El jardín de al lado, and the novel's “dialogue” between the art forms of literature and painting.


(The entire section is 406 words.)