Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

BLACK VALLEY—in the original, VALLE NEGRO—is subtitled “A Romance of the Argentine.” The romantic elements of the novel are readily apparent. A story of a primitive way of life and elemental emotions, the action has been staged against a background of wild natural beauty. Hugo Wast’s settings are real, as are his people and the way of life he presents. Lacking certain of the didactic elements found in STONE DESERT, this work reveals to excellent advantage the novelist of character and the painter of landscapes. The plot, although episodic in form, is well ordered, and the story moves forward with increasing emotional and dramatic interest as the writer unfolds the dual theme presented through the ill-fated love of Flavia and Don Pablo and the relationship of spoiled, weak Gracian and strong, devoted Mirra. The style is vigorous, precise, and pure.

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It is a fertile work that embodies Wast’s basic writing techniques—the use of a clear style, sustained suspense, melodrama, deep interest, and spontaneous sprouting of the story. Wast used Argentine geography in all of his backgrounds and spent most of his life in Santa Fe Province, in Argentina’s Far West. BLACK VALLEY is thus laced with local color, life-style, and personality. Even the title reflects the novel’s tone, for this wind-whipped, isolated valley has weird beauty such as hidden caves, wild beasts, wild flowers, and a misty, Nordic beauty. The latter flavor perhaps reflects Wast’s political bent, since, after becoming Argentina’s Minister of Education shortly before World War II, he was accused of pro-German and anti-Semitic views. In any event, Wast’s earlier and prolonged popularity with Argentine readers might have stemmed not only from his nationalism but also from his knack of jerking urban readers out of their stifling settings and, through sublimation, establishing them in rustic beauty and peace.

BLACK VALLEY was sneeringly dismissed in a local contest as being beneath consideration but promptly became a best-seller and won a gold medal from the prestigious Spanish Academy, which paid Wast the added honor of including his Argentine idiomatic expressions in its dictionary. Written with slight touches of Alexandre Dumas, BLACK VALLEY is readable and entertaining. Its characters are not too numerous, nor do they enter and leave the story like shooting stars but steadily grow as a function of the plot. BLACK VALLEY also reflects Wast’s tastes for blending romantic idealism in his imaginative elements with costumbrista realism in his observed elements. He almost attains a biblical flavor when describing individual misfortunes. Manias, foolishness, odd notions, and other human failings are lampooned.

Wast was educated by Jesuits just before the end of the nineteenth century. He felt that women were morally superior to men and excoriated cruelty, selfishness, and the flint-hearted rich. Atheism and Communism were attacked in his oceanic literary output, but he also criticized clergymen who lacked spartan qualities. In his novels, large cathedrals are considered inferior to small and humble churches that serve as oases of peace for individuals suffering affliction.

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