José Donoso Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

José Donoso (doh-NOH-soh), one of Chile’s leading novelists, is an eminent figure within the Latin American renaissance as well as within contemporary fiction in general. He was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1924. His childhood home, a decaying but still elegant mansion, filled with the many servants and relatives of his father’s wealthy and bedridden great-aunts, provided him with inspiration for insightful portrayals of the Chilean bourgeoisie and its servants. His father, a physician, seems to have been more dedicated to playing cards and horse racing than to the rigors of dealing with the ill. His dramatic household situation allowed the young Donoso to develop a penchant for art and literature, costumes, the servants’ and aunts’ stories, and the spirit of the nineteenth century, elements which can be noted in the narrative richness of his two masterpieces, The Obscene Bird of Night and A House in the Country. The insanity and eccentricity of his maternal grandmother inspired the female protagonist of his first novel, Coronation. His mother’s intrepid nouveau-riche family and her carnivalesque approach to religion (she had a fascination with witchcraft and costumes) influenced Donoso’s grotesque and fantastical descriptions. All three of these novels, along with This Sunday, capture his childhood activities and games, and the latter portrays the charities of his lovable and theatrical mother.{$S[A]Yañez, José Donoso;Donoso, José}

Donoso attended English schools, becoming progressively more averse to the collective experience of sports and other group activities. This feeling of being an outsider led him to rebellious pastimes, such as talking to derelicts and living as a shepherd on the pampa of Punta Arenas. An admiration of the...

(The entire section is 733 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

José Donoso Yañez was born in Santiago, Chile, on October 5, 1924. He specialized in English during his early education and majored in English literature at Princeton University, where he published his first two short stories, both written in English: “The Blue Woman” (1950) and “The Poisoned Pastries” (1951). Returning to Chile, he published “China,” his first short story written in Spanish, in 1954. The seven stories of his prizewinning first volume of short stories, published at his own expense, include the outstanding “El Güero” (“The Güero”) and “Una señora” (“A Lady”). During a biennium in Buenos Aires (1958-1960) he met an artist, also from Chile, María del Pilar Serrano, whom he married in 1961. His travels subsequently took him to Mexico, to the University of Iowa, where he lectured for the Writers’ Workshop, to Mallorca, where he and his wife adopted an infant girl, to Colorado State University for a lectureship terminated by illness, to Spain again in 1973, to a post at Princeton University in 1975, back to Spain in 1976, and, finally, home to Chile in 1981.

Literary history identifies Donoso with the “boom” in Spanish American literature that occurred during the 1960’s and 1970’s, comprising such notable writers as Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Donoso’s critical contribution to this movement is his The Boom in Spanish American Literature.

His last years in Chile, following the global fame he had received for The Obscene Bird of Night and his other novels, were clouded by political opposition to his antigovernment writings. Along with many Spanish American artists, intellectuals, and writers, he was bitterly opposed to the military overthrow of President Salvador Allende and the installation of the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Donoso died on December 7, 1996, at the age of seventy-two.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

José Donoso is one of Chile’s most widely known writers of prose fiction and one of the most outstanding and prestigious figures of his generation of narrators in Latin America. He was born José Donoso Yañez into an upper-middle-class family of Spanish and Italian descent in Santiago on October 5, 1924. His father (for whom Donoso was named) was a physician; his mother, Alicia Yáñez, came from a prominent Chilean family. It was she who, with the couple’s servant, Teresa Vergara, reared Donoso and his two brothers. Until her death in 1976, Donoso’s mother continued to live in the spacious home where the future novelist was born, and the atmosphere of decrepitude and decay in the labyrinthine mansion (property of Dr. Donoso’s three elderly great-aunts) haunts his fiction.

When Donoso was seven years old, his father hired an English governess, the foundation of his excellent knowledge of the language, which he continued to study at the Grange, an English school in Santiago, from 1932 to 1942. During this period, Donoso’s maternal grandmother returned from Europe to make her home with the family, an event that (together with her deteriorating mental and physical condition) left a mark on the future writer’s development. A teenage rebel who disliked school and his father’s imposition of the British sports ethic (personified in a boxing instructor), Donoso began feigning stomachaches, which led to a real appendectomy and subsequently an equally real ulcer.

Never serious about religion, Donoso proclaimed himself an atheist at the age of twelve. Equally cavalier about classes, he cared only for reading, and in 1943, he dropped out of school. After two years, during which he had not managed to hold a job for more than a few months, he set out for Magallanes at the southern tip of Chile, where he worked as a sheepherder on the pampas for about a year, subsequently hitchhiking through Patagonia to Buenos Aires, where he lived as a dockhand until he...

(The entire section is 812 words.)