(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Seven Madmen chronicles the disaffiliation of Remo Erdosain from normal, middle-class life and his increasing involvement with the mysterious conspiracy of The Astrologer. During a period of only a few months, Erdosain moves from being an accounting clerk with a pretty, respectable wife to being the colleague of various denizens of the underworld, occultists, and political fanatics. The novel closes with Erdosain among these dangerous companions, under the charismatic sway of The Astrologer, and working on an invention that, if successful, would be fatally toxic to the population of Buenos Aires. A footnote promises that the outcome of these unpromising circumstances will appear in a sequel, Los lanzallamas (the flamethrowers), which in fact was published in 1931.

While Erdosain is becoming more deeply enmeshed in The Astrologer’s schemes, the reader of The Seven Madmen is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish the realistic from the magical and fantastic elements in the novel. He is unclear whether The Astrologer is a Socialist revolutionary, a Fascist, or the leader of a religious revival. His followers, with the exception of the earnest protagonist, often seem not to believe in the worth of The Astrologer’s project. They hint that no serious revolution is being planned and that the conspirators are merely distracting themselves from boredom with the shared fiction of a grand undertaking. It is this mix of realistic descriptions and plot elements with bizarrely imaginative ones that has won for The Seven Madmen its fame as an important early example of Magical Realism.

The Seven Madmen Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gray, Paul. “The Seven Madmen.” Time 124 (August 27, 1984): 58. A review and plot synopsis of Arlt’s novel. Gray notes that Arlt disregarded the rules of grammar and the sensibilities of critics.

Hayes, Aden W. “Roberto Arlt.” In Latin American Writers, edited by Carlos A. Solé and Maria I. Abreau. Vol 2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989. An essay on the life and career of Arlt. Includes analysis of his works and a bibliography.

Lindstrom, Naomi, ed. “Focus on Roberto Arlt.” Center for Inter-American Relations Review 31 (1982): 26-41. An overview of Arlt’s life and career.

Semilla, Marían. “Roberto Arlt.” In Spanish American Authors: The Twentieth Century, edited by Angel Flores. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1992. Profiles Arlt and includes an extensive bibliography of works by and about the author.