Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera Essay - Critical Essays

Nájera, Manuel Gutiérrez

Introduction

Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera 1859-1895

(Also wrote under the pseudonyms El Duque Job, Recamier, Rafael, M. Can-Can, Junius, El Cura de Jalatlaco, Juan Lanas, Perico el de los Palotes, Frú‐Frú, Ignotus, Pomponnet, Croix-Dieu, Omega, Fritz, Gil Blas, Nemo, Etincelle, and Puck.) Mexican journalist, critic, poet, and short story writer.

Gutiérrez Nájera was an important figure of nineteenth-century Latin American Modernism, best known for his innovative writing style and his development of the Modernist short story. His other work includes poetry and crónicas, short prose pieces devoted to a wide variety of contemporary topics: literature and the arts, including theatrical reviews, political and social questions, and general cultural criticism.

Biographical Information

Nájera was born in Mexico City on December 22, 1859, to Manuel Gutiérrez and Dolores Nájera. Most of his early instruction came from his parents, who were well educated, and there is some evidence that he attended a French school during his early childhood. His parents also arranged for the Archbishop of Mexico to tutor him privately in Latin. Nájera's mother was a very devout Catholic, as was Nájera in his youth. He remained a deeply spiritual man throughout his life, despite early disillusionment with the Catholic church. Nájera began writing in his mid-teens and by the age of sixteen, various newspapers were competing for the right to publish his work. He became a prolific journalist and co-founded, along with Carlos Díaz Dufóo, the magazine Revista Azul. Throughout his career, Nájera employed a variety of pseudonyms including Rafael, Mr. Can-Can, El Duque Job, Junius, and Puck, enabling him to reuse, adapt, and occasionally combine pieces to suit a variety of purposes and to publish them under different names. In 1888, Nájera married Cecilia Maillefert; the couple had two daughters, Cecilia and Margarita. His life from that point on was devoted to his family and to his writing. In fragile health even as a child, Nájera exacerbated his condition by constantly smoking cigars and by overindulging in alcohol. He died on February 3, 1895, at his home in Mexico City, surrounded by friends and family. Despite his lifelong ambition to travel, he had never left Mexico and had rarely ventured outside the capital.

Major Works

The majority of Nájera's work was written for newspapers and periodicals, and most of the pieces appeared almost immediately after he produced them. He wrote primarily poetry, short stories, and crónicas, a genre defined by critic Harley D. Oberhelman as “a commentary upon daily events or about any material of general interest, consciously cultivated as a special form of artistic prose.” Nájera produced more than 1,500 of these crónicas, many of them under one or another of his various pseudonyms. In adopting a pseudonym, Nájera also adopted the point of view of its accompanying fictional persona, such as a priest or a simple country lad. He thus assured that his readers would not tire of the hundreds of essays he produced on a wide range of topics since they were written from various narrative points of view. Some of the crónicas were written to commemorate special occasions, such as “Gloria,” which was composed to mark the death of Justo Sierra's daughter, and many of them discussed philosophical questions, religious or social problems, drug and alcohol use, or death. Nájera also wrote criticism on new literature, drama, music and poetry. According to E. K. Mapes, Nájera’s “understanding of critical procedure, his acquaintance with literature, and his skill in marshaling his facts and arguments, are astounding to the last degree.”

Nájera's short stories, were generally somber and occasionally even morbid. Some of these were published in a collection called Cuentos frágiles (1883), which was the only book of Nájera's works published in his lifetime. One of his most famous stories from this collection is “Mañana de San Juan,” which tells the story of two small boys who wander away from their garden on the morning of Saint John's Day. One child falls into the water while reaching for a paper boat and his brother tries valiantly to save him, without success. The tale is typical of Nájera's work—a simple story filled with sadness and inevitability told in such poetic language that the reader is deeply moved. Many of Nájera's stories, such as “Los suicidios,” “En la calle,” and “La balada de Año Nuevo” involve tragedy and death. Another of his well-known tales is “Rip Rip,” an adaptation of Washington Irving's “Rip Van Winkle.” Of his many poems, “La Serenata de Schubert” (1888) has been cited as a brief but major lyrical poem, noted for its original imagery, fresh expression and melodic tone. M. A. Loera de la Llave describes it as a “well-wrought composition on Romantic topoi.

Critical Reception

Nájera’s articles were in high demand during his life and interest in his work has remained relatively steady since that time. Due to the fact that Nájera contributed most of his work to a variety of periodicals, under a number of pseudonyms, it has been somewhat of a challenge over the years to compile and republish his work in book form. Critics such as E. K. Mapes have contributed much to the sorting out of these issues. As for his importance in literary history, many critics credit Nájera for his pioneering work as an early Modernist. John A. Crow calls Cuentos frágiles “the first expression of Modernist prose in Spanish America.” According to Crow, “all of the critics have praised Nájera's poetry, but only a few have pointed out that his prose was a far more important influence on the writers who followed.” Harley D. Oberhelman agrees, insisting that “the importance of his poetry to Modernism was great, but it was in his prose writings, especially the crónicas, that his contribution to the movement was most decisive.” Oberhelman claims that “Nájera introduced Modernism to Mexico in the pages of his Revista Azul; his work represents a liaison between earlier romanticism and the refined work of the Modernists, and his Revista made possible the smooth transition from one movement to the other.” In addition to his contribution to Latin American Modernism, critics praise Nájera’s use of language and imagery in his poetry and short stories. According to Nell Walker, Nájera told even simple stories “in phrases so full of tenderness and pathos and adorn[ed] the whole with such beautiful descriptions of native customs or picturesque landscapes that the reader is fascinated with the picture and with the story.” Crow, too, praises Nájera's ability to create poetic images, claiming that Nájera “scatters images like jewels throughout his prose.”

Principal Works

Cuentos frágiles (short stories) 1883

Revista azul [co-founder and co-editor] (poetry, and prose) 1894‐95

*Obras de Manuel: Prose. 2 vols. (short stories, prose, criticism) 1898

Poesías de Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (poetry) 1909

Hojas sueltas: Artículos diversos por Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (prose) 1912

Poesías completas. 2 vols. (poetry) 1953

Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera: Estudio y escritos inéditos (prose) 1956

Cuentos completos y otras narraciones (short stories) 1958

*The first volume was published in 1898, with an introduction by Luis G. Urbina. The second volume was published in 1903, with an introduction by Amado Nervo.

Criticism

Nell Walker (essay date 1 April 1927)

SOURCE: Walker, Nell. “Prose.” The University of Missouri Studies: The Life and Works of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera 2, no. 2 (1 April 1927): 28-46.

[In the following excerpt, Walker offers an overview of Nájera's prose works, including his news items, short stories, sermons, travel essays, and criticism.]

The first volume of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera's Prose Works contains an introduction by Luis G. Urbina, to which reference has several times been made, and the various articles in this volume are grouped under the following headings:

Cuentos Frágiles.
Cuentos Color de Humo.
Crónicas y Fantasías.
Notas de Viaje.
Humoradas Dominicales....

(The entire section is 10943 words.)

E. K. Mapes (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: Mapes, E. K. “The First Published Writings of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera.” Hispanic Review 5, no. 3 (1937): 225-40.

[In the following essay, Mapes asserts that scholarship on Nájera has been long-neglected and examines the conflicting evidence regarding Nájera's earliest publications.]

One of the chief handicaps under which technical investigation on the Spanish American Modernist poets has always labored is the lack of genuinely accurate data on biography and chronology. It is for this reason that Raúl Silva Castro's recent book on Rubén Darío1 occupies so important a place in Modernist criticism: it painstakingly verifies every available...

(The entire section is 6566 words.)

Howard M. Fraser (essay date winter 1973)

SOURCE: Fraser, Howard M. “Change is the Unchanging: Washington Irving and Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera.” Journal of Spanish Studies: Twentieth Century 1, no. 3 (winter 1973): 151-9.

[In the following essay, Fraser examines “Rip-Rip,” Nájera's adaptation of Washington Irving's famous story “Rip Van Winkle.”]

Slightly more than half a century ago, the American critic John De Lancey Ferguson observed:

The writers and scholars of the republics to the south have shown an interest in our literature which is certainly far greater than the reciprocal interest which we have shown in theirs, since the latter interest may fairly be...

(The entire section is 3350 words.)

Terry O. Taylor (essay date fall 1973)

SOURCE: Taylor, Terry O. “Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera: Originality and the Question of Literary Borrowings.” Symposium 27, no. 3 (fall 1973): 269-78.

[In the following essay, Taylor answers those critics of Nájera's who claim that the writer's work is derivative and lacks originality.]

The topic of literary relationships in the work of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera is not new. In fact the question has been pursued to the point where Gutiérrez Nájera is all but denied literary individuality. Justo Sierra, unintentionally I believe, laid the groundwork for exaggeration when he wrote in 1895 that el Duque wrote poetry that consisted of “pensamientos franceses en versos...

(The entire section is 4693 words.)

Henry J. Richards (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Richards, Henry J. “On the Plot Structure of ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘Rip Rip.’” Romance Notes 21, no. 2 (1980): 138-44.

[In the following essay, Richards applies Propp's principles of fairy tale analysis in comparing Irving's original story to Nájera's adaptation.]

The subject matter of Washington Irving's “Rip Van Winkle” and that of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera's “Rip Rip” are remarkably similar. No less striking, however, is the following disclaimer uttered by the narrator at the beginning of the Gutiérrez Nájera story: “¿De quién es la leyenda de Rip Rip? Entiendo que la recogió Washington Irving, para darle forma literaria en alguno...

(The entire section is 2232 words.)

Priscilla Pearsall (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Pearsall, Priscilla. “Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera: Modernity and the Destruction of the Romantic ‘Angel Consoladora.’” In An Art Alienated from Itself: Studies in Spanish American Modernism, pp. 40-65. University, Miss.: Romance Monographs, 1984.

[In the following excerpt, Pearsall considers Nájera's defense of romanticism and the changing perspectives on life and literature reflected in his poetry.]

In the late summer of 1876, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera published, in a series of sections, a long article, “El arte y el materialismo,” which is often considered to be the first Modernist manifesto.1 Many of the conflicts about literature which...

(The entire section is 9593 words.)

Randal C. Fulk (essay date fall 1988)

SOURCE: Fulk, Randal C. “Form and Style in the Short Stories of Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera.” Hispanic Journal 10, no. 1 (fall 1988): 127-32.

[In the following essay, Fulk discusses Nájera's short stories as an expression of the refined style and universal themes associated with early Spanish American modernism.]

The refined style the Mexican writer Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (1859-1895) displays in his collections of short stories Cuentos frágiles (1883) and Cuentos color de humo (1890-1894) gives Nájera the distinction, shared with the Cuban José Martí, of being an initiator of modernism in Spanish American literature. As Ivan A. Schulman notes:...

(The entire section is 2711 words.)

M. A. Loera de la Llave (essay date 2001)

Loera de la Llave, M. A. “A Modernista's Mode of Amamnesis: Kunstlied, Painting, Opera, and Literature in Manuel Gutiérrez-Nájera.” Iberoromania 53 (2001): 25-44.

[In the following essay, Loera de la Llave discusses Nájera's allusions to contemporary and historical works—including Shakespeare's Hamlet and Schubert's Lied—and how they reflect on Nájera and the modernista movement.]

The varied writings of the modernista Manuel Gutiérrez-Nájera (Mexico, 1859-1895) constitute a highly literary literature that, unassuming and apparently simple, his poetry often dissembles. This comparative study focuses on his creative...

(The entire section is 8881 words.)