Jorge Luis Borges Biography
Jorge Luis Borges, the essayist, short story writer, poet, lecturer, librarian, professor and translator, was born in a suburb of Buenos Aires to an educated, middle-class family. Angel Flores, the first critic to use the term "magical realism" credits Borges as the beginning of the genre, with his Historia universal de la infamia (A Universal History of Infamy).
Like his father, Borges' eyesight declined throughout his life, leaving him completely blind at the age of 55.
Facts and Trivia
- Borges was raised in a bilingual family in Buenos Aires. He was well out of childhood before he realized that English and Spanish were two separate languages. He also studied French and German.
- Borges’ younger sister, Norah, was the only friend he had as a child. The two of them spent a lot of their day acting out stories they had read.
- When Borges was twenty-nine, he met Elsa Astete. She was twenty. Borges fell in love and thought Elsa had too, but she suddenly left him and married another man. When Borges was in his sixties, he reunited with Elsa, who became Borges’ first wife.
- In 1938, Borges was hit on the head. While recovering, he almost died from blood poisoning. That near-death experience changed his thinking, and he started writing in a new style, one that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
- Borges died on June 14, 1986. During the last thirty years of his life, he was completely blind, but that didn’t stop him from publishing. His mother helped by reading to him and taking dictation.
The son of Jorge Guillermo and Leonor Alcevedo de Borges, Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires on August 24, 1899. His ancestors had been involved in Argentina’s history, having fought for the country’s independence and later against various dictators; these ancestors would serve as subjects for some of Borges’ poems. So, too, would his childhood home in Palermo (a working-class neighborhood on the north side of Buenos Aires), with its windmill to draw water, its garden, and its trees and birds. A frail child who did not enter school until he was nine, Borges spent much time in his father’s extensive library, an activity that he later called “the chief event of my life.” There he read many of the works that would inform his writing, by authors such as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Miguel de Cervantes, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. He read their works in English because his paternal grandmother, Frances Haslam, had come from Great Britain and “Georgie,” as he was called at home, learned her language before he knew Spanish. Even Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) he first encountered in English. When he later read the original, he felt that he was reading a translation. From Haslam, he also heard stories about the Argentine frontier of the 1870’s; one of these stories, about an Englishwoman abducted by Indians, provided the basis of “Historia del guerrero y la cautiva” (1949; “Story of the Warrior and the Captive,” 1962).
His literary vocation, along with his weak eyes, he inherited from his father, a lawyer and man of letters who had published some poetry and a novel. Borges claimed that his father taught him that language could be magical and musical, and from his youth Borges was destined to fulfill the literary dream that failing sight denied his father. Certainly he came to writing early: At six, he produced a short summary of various Greek myths, anticipating his lifelong interest in minotaurs, labyrinths, and the fantastic. About three years later, El Paîs, a Buenos Aires daily, published his Spanish translation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”; the translation was so mature in style that the work was attributed to Borges’ father.
In 1914, the family went to Europe so...
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