Doña Bárbara

by Rómulo Gallegos

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Doña Bárbara is a 1929 fictional novel written by Venezuelan novelist and politician Rómulo Gallegos (Rómulo Ángel del Monte Carmelo Gallegos Freire). As it was written in the Criollismo movement (the Spanish regionalist literary movement), and portrays scenes, images, languages, landscapes, characters, and character’s mannerisms which are typical for Gallegos’ native country Venezuela (especially its rural environment), Doña Bárbara is considered a regionalist novel as well.

An interesting element of the novel is the fact that it was rewritten and reedited several times. In the second edition of Doña Bárbara, published in 1930, Gallegos added five chapters and rearranged the order of the existing ones. In the years to come, he made several other changes to the book’s content and structure, until he was finally satisfied with the novel’s 1954 edition.

The story follows a well-educated lawyer named Santos Luzardo, who goes back to his home village in Apure to sell his father’s land. Upon arrival, he discovers that his land is ‘owned’ by a cunning, unscrupulous, capricious, and often violent woman named Doña Bárbara Guaimarán, who apparently flirts with the men and manipulates the people to gain power.

She is the polar opposite of Santos, and her character represents the wild and barbaric side of human nature, while Santos represents the good, civilized, and calm side. In other words, they represent the clash between barbarism and civilization, hence their names: Bárbara means ‘wild’ in Spanish, while Santos means ‘Saint’ or ‘light.’ Interestingly enough, Doña Bárbara falls in love with Santos, but fails to make him reciprocate her feelings, as he falls in love with the kind Marisela.

Gallegos managed to incorporate a plethora of socially relevant themes such as love, loyalty, kindness, manipulation, abuse, corruption, violence, fragility, and the complexity of human nature. However, because of his heavy criticism of the long dictatorship of the then-Venezuelan-‘ruler’ Juan Vicente Gómez, Gallegos was forced to flee his country and take refuge in Spain, where he continued to write.

Upon publication, Doña Bárbara gained worldwide critical acclaim, with critics and other authors branding it a Venezuelan masterpiece and calling it the most influential regionalist novel ever written in Latin American, and even World, literature. Thus, it received its first English translation in 1931 and gained several adaptations for film, television, and opera.

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