Adolfo Bioy Casares 1914–
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms Martín Sacastru and Javier Miranda; joint pseudonyms with Jorge Luis Borges include H[onorio] Bustos Domecq, B. Lynch Davis, and B. Suárez Lynch) Argentine novelist, short story writer, essayist, memoirist, and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Bioy Casares's career through 1995. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 8, and 13.
Chiefly regarded for highly imaginative tales, Bioy Casares blends elements of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery writing to comment on social and political conditions in Argentina as well as broader themes concerning love, identity, perception, and human nature. His complex and at times surreal plots frequently incorporate such elements and devices of fantastic fiction as time travel, invisibility, extrasensory perception, oneiric images, and metamorphosis. Frequently compared to fellow Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges, a long-time friend and collaborator, Bioy Casares is recognized as one of Argentina's—and the Spanish-speaking world's—best and most innovative writers.
Bioy Casares was born in Buenos Aires to wealthy parents. His father, a published memoirist, frequently read gaucho epics to Bioy Casares when he was a boy, and at an early age he began to compose stories and poetry that reveal a fascination with the supernatural. Bioy Casares's first published work, Prológo (1929; Prologue), appeared when he was only 15; edited by his father, the volume was published at his parents' expense. One of the most significant events of Bioy Casares's life was meeting Jorge Luis Borges at the home of Victoria Ocampo, a fiction writer and publisher of the literary magazine Sur. Despite their age difference—Borges was fifteen years older than Bioy Casares—the meeting initiated what would become a life-long friendship and professional partnership. Borges's encouragement led Bioy Casares to transfer from the study of law to philosophy and literature and, ultimately, to choose writing as a career. Rejecting the then-prevalent historical approach to literary criticism, the pair founded a magazine of avant-garde criticism called Destiempo (Out of Time) in 1936. While the periodical did not remain in circulation long, it led to Bioy Casares and Borges's collaboration on a variety of other projects, including anthologies of Argentine fantastic fiction, detective stories, and their favorite gaucho poetry; a volume of quotes and epigrams by popular writers from classical to modern times; and such popular works as Seis problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (1942; Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi) and Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (1967; Chronicles of Bustos Domecq). Discussing the nature of their relationship, Borges has stated: "[Bioy Casares and I] met in 1930 or 1931, when he was seventeen and I was just past thirty. It is always taken for granted in these cases that the older man is the master and the younger his disciple. This may have been true at the outset, but several years later, when we began to work together, Bioy was really and secretly the master." Bioy Casares's first major work of fiction, La invención de Morel (The Invention of Morel), was published to critical acclaim in 1940. That same year he married Silvina Ocampo, with whom he later collaborated on several projects, including the detective novel Los que aman, odian (1946). A prolific writer and a major figure in his homeland and abroad, Bioy Casares has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1941 Premio Municipal de la Cuidad de Buenos Aires for The Invention of Morel, the 1969 Premio Nacional for El gran serafin (1967), and the 1986 Premio Internacional Literario IILA (Rome) for the short story collections Historias fantásticas (1972) and Historias de amor (1972). Bioy Casares continues to work and reside in Buenos Aires.
Bioy Casares's interest in the relationship between dreams, fantasy, and reality appears in his most famous work, The Invention of Morel. Largely influenced by H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau (1876), the novella is set on a nearly deserted island and concerns a man who falls in love with what is eventually revealed to be a holographic image of a woman. Employing Bioy Casares's trademark techniques of concise dialogue, brief sentences, and an omniscient narrator who comments on events about which the protagonist is unaware, The Invention of Morel is considered a satirical examination of the nature of love and the role of the artist in contemporary society. In Plan de evasión (1945; A Plan for Escape), which is likewise set on a island, Enrique Nevers attempts to observe the activities of the French governor stationed on nearby Devil's Island prison. This highly metaphoric and metafictional novella centers on Nevers's changing perceptions and the disparity between what he knows and what is actually taking place; the governor, in fact, is overseeing a surgical experiment that produces permanent synesthesia in prisoners on the island. Bioy Casares's focus on appearances and reality is heightened by his use of an unreliable—and potentially insane—narrator and an epistolary structure. Surgery that yields personality changes and the use of letters as a narrative device are also central to Dormir al sol (1973; Asleep in the Sun). In other works, such as the novel Diario de la guerra del cerdo (1969; Diary of the War of the Pig) and the short story collection Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, Bioy Casares includes a focus on Argentine politics and society as subplots to the major drama. Commenting on the treatment of the elderly in the twentieth century, Diary of the War of the Pig is set in Argentina in the near future and concerns the massacre of senior citizens by gangs of adolescents. Inspired in part by actual events of World War II, the eponymous protagonist of Bioy Casares and Borges's Six Problems solves crimes from a prison cell, having been framed for a murder committed by a police clerk. Incorporating elements of traditional and nontraditional detective fiction, Six Problems is known as a highly experimental text dealing with issues of referentiality and signification. Chronicles of Bustos Domecq was also written with Borges and has been described by Clarence Brown as "sheer nonsensical hilarity." The collection features vignettes and essays on a variety of fictitious writers and artists, and is dedicated to such great modernist icons as Pablo Picasso, Charles-Edouard Le Courbusier, and James Joyce. Love, magic, obsession, and deception are central to two of Bioy Casares's other novels: the mystery El sueño de los heroes (1954; The Dream of Heroes), which has been noted for its allusions to the myth of Oedipus; and the mystical and disjointed La aventura de un fotógrafo en La Plata (1985; The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata).
Publishers of Bioy Casares's collaborative works with Borges have tended to emphasize Borges's authorship, and much of the critical regard paid to these works and, by extension, to Bioy Casares in general is related to Borges's renown. Bioy Casares's incorporation of themes and motifs found in the works of H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, G. K. Chesterton, and Edgar Allan Poe have also overshadowed his success at times. Recent studies of Bioy Casares's fiction, however, praise his inventive plots, sardonic humor, and concise language. The Invention of Morel, for example, is generally considered a minor masterpiece and an exemplary model of fantastic fiction, and Bioy Casares continues to be lauded for his use of surrealism and the postmodernist focus of his work on issues of textuality, spatiality, identity, and perception. As T. J. Lewis has noted: "Although Bioy Casares may not have achieved the worldwide significance of his compatriot Jorge Luis Borges, he is one of the best of Argentina's writers."