In addition to his novels, Eduardo Mallea (mah-YAY-ah) published a number of short stories and novellas, as well as several volumes of essays and travel books. Critics have observed that the novellas and stories can be considered brief renditions of existentialist struggles, featuring solitary characters whose lives are aimless movements in anguish and alienation. Mallea’s best-known collection of essays is Conocimiento y expresión de la Argentina (1935; knowledge and expression of Argentina), a slender volume whose point of departure is a series of lectures delivered in Italy. Essentially, it is an attempt to analyze and describe homo americanus. The writer’s first literary effort, the collection of shortnarratives Cuentos para una inglesa desesperada (1926; stories for a desperate Englishwoman), gave early evidence of his aesthetic sensitivity and refinement.
In addition to short fiction and the essays on history, philosophy, and travel (some of which found their way into his long fiction), Mallea published literary criticism. Historia de una pasión argentina (1937; History of an Argentine Passion, 1983), his most important essay, stands as the cornerstone of his philosophical and literary credo. In this somewhat autobiographical volume, a troubled young Mallea investigates the authentic, invisible Argentina, submerged under its many ills, and attempts to expose them to find the spirit of the nation. The method is self-examination; the symptoms of the national illness include confusion of values, with ends more important than means; cultural snobbishness; feelings of inferiority; lack of authenticity, forcing people to don a mask to meet others; and an assault on the Spanish language, which Mallea perceived as continuously violated. La vida blanca (1960; the sterile life) reiterates the motif of a need for a national culture incorporating the spiritual foundations and traditional values already noticed in History of an Argentine Passion. La guerra interior (1963; the inner war) and Poderío de la novela (1965; the power of the novel) are critical essays in which Mallea treats his own works as well as those of American and European writers, particularly those of the beginning of the twentieth century.