Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469
A descendant of the diplomat, author, and educator Sarmiento, Eduardo Mallea (mah-YAH-ah) was born on August 14, 1903, in desolate, wind-swept Bahía Blanca, Argentina, the setting for much of his writing. After his primary instruction by an Australian woman, his physician father took him to Buenos Aires, where he studied law until the sale of some children’s stories turned him to literature as a career. Some of his short stories were published in journals in the 1920’s. In 1926 his first collection of stories, the fantastic and frantic Cuentos para una inglesa desesperada (stories for a desperate Englishwoman), opened the way for a voyage to Europe and brought him in 1931 the literary editorship of La nación, Argentina’s most influential newspaper, in Buenos Aires. A lecture trip to Italy later resulted in Nocturno europeo, an example of his technique of using a slim fictional plot to tie together his ideas. It won for him the first of many literary prizes, which included the Primer Premio Nacional de Letras in 1945, the Forti Glori Prize in 1968, and the Gran Premio Nacional de las Artes in 1970. Mallea married Helena Muñóz Larreta in 1944.
His Historia de una pasión argentina (history of an Argentine passion), probably his most important essay, is the cornerstone of his credo. It includes many autobiographical elements, and its hero Adrian seeks relief for his tormented soul in the Confessions of Saint Augustine and in Spanish mysticism. Mallea’s confessed admiration for Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Franz Kafka explains Mallea’s The Bay of Silence, the work which firmly established him as a modern novelist who expresses philosophical implications in a pungently lyrical style and who excels in descriptions of the city. The novel describes Martin Tregua as a student in Buenos Aires and portrays his relationship in Europe with the disillusioned, frustrated, married Gloria, with whom he finds solace. In Fiesta in November Mallea presents three complicated and temperamental women in a literary feat inspired by the execution of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca at the outbreak of the Civil War. Between chapters about the useless rich of Buenos Aires, fearing suppression of liberty and thought, are sections of another story about soldiers murdering the liberal poet for having different ideas.
Stefan Zweig insisted that Mallea’s All Green Shall Perish should be published in Europe, and José Lins do Rego translated it into Portuguese for Brazilian readers. Ernest Hemingway and others recognized Mallea’s skill with words and ideas by including one of his representative works in the anthology The Best of the World (1950). Mallea tried to create a style typically Argentine; his portrayal of his characters, solitary souls in pain seeking freedom and self-expression, reveals his patriotic belief that his native land is a paradise even if the inhabitants possess many weaknesses.