José Donoso Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

José Donoso’s major literary reputation is as a novelist; among his novels, El obsceno pájaro de la noche (1970; The Obscene Bird of Night, 1973) stands out internationally as his signature masterpiece. In the 1990’s he published Donde van a morir los elefantes (1995) and El mocho (1997). He has written a number of autobiographical works, one of which is the significant Historia personal del “boom” (1972; The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History, 1977), a play based on one of the novellas in Cuatro para Delfina, and a volume of poetry.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Receiving his B.A. at Princeton University with the aid of a Doherty Foundation Fellowship, José Donoso went on to win the Santiago Municipal Short-Story Prize for Veraneo y otros cuentos, the William Faulkner Foundation Prize for his first novel, Coronación (1957; Coronation, 1965), two John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships (1968, 1973), and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (1992). His other awards include the Chile-Italia Prize for journalism, the National Prize for Literature (Chile), the Prize for Criticism (Spain), the Mondello Prize (Italy), the Roger Caillois Prize (France), and, in 1990, the Grand Cross of Civilian Merit, granted by Spain’s Cabinet of Ministers.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

José Donoso (doh-NOH-soh) was a superb storyteller, and his first literary efforts were in the area of the short story (curiously, his first stories were written in English and published in the Princeton University literary review MSS). His collections of stories include Veraneo, y otros cuentos (1955; summer vacation, and other stories); Dos cuentos (1956; two stories); El Charlestón (1960; abridged as Cuentos, 1971; Charleston, and Other Stories, 1977); and Los mejores cuentos de José Donoso (1965; the best stories of José Donoso). Little if any significant thematic or technical distinction can be drawn between Donoso’s novels and shorter fiction, other than those imposed by the limits of the genres themselves. Regardless of length, all are superb blends of sociological observation and psychological analysis, in which realism never quite manages to eliminate fantasy, where madness, the supernatural, and the unknown hover just beyond the bounds of consciousness and reason.

Donoso also wrote essays of literary criticism and attracted attention with Historia personal del “boom” (1972; The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History, 1977). His Poemas de un novelista (1981) is a collection of thirty poems with a twelve-page authorial introduction explaining the personal circumstances that occasioned the verse.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Each of José Donoso’s novels had its special success, and the writer’s prestige grew with each stage of his career. Despite a slow beginning (he came to the novel at age thirty-three), Donoso published no novel that could be classed a failure by critics or the public, and several of his works have received awards, the most acclaimed being The Obscene Bird of Night (a favorite of reviewers and literary critics) and A House in the Country, which received the Spanish Critics’ Prize, a coveted award despite its lack of endowment, since it reflects the esteem of the country’s professional critics as a whole. Donoso was the recipient of two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation for the furthering of works in progress and served as writer-in-residence at various American universities, with stints at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1965-1967) and teaching positions at Princeton University and Dartmouth College. In demand as a distinguished lecturer, he also held a number of editorial posts. His powers of sociopsychological penetration and his marvelous irony and skillful use of allegory, together with his masterful handling of existential themes and the abnormal or psychotic narrative perspective, place Donoso in the forefront of international fiction.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Callan, Richard J. Jung, Alchemy, and José Donoso’s Novel “El obsceno pájaro de la noche.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. Discusses themes of imprisonment and disguise in the context of Jungian analytical psychology.

Carbajal, Brent J. The Veracity of Disguise in Selected Works of José Donoso: Illusory Deception. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. Discusses Donoso’s use of masks, both literal and metaphorical, in his works.

Finnegan, Pamela May. The Tension of Paradox: José Donoso’s “The Obscene Bird of Night” as Spiritual Exercises. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992. Finnegan examines the novel as an expression of man’s estrangement from the world. A difficult but rewarding study for advanced students. Includes a bibliography.

González Mandri, Flora. José Donoso’s House of Fiction: A Dramatic Construction of Time and Place. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Focuses on Donoso’s incorporation of masks and houses in his fiction, the latter implicating allusions to Henry James. Although the study is chiefly of the novels, it includes searching attention to the short story “Santelices” and the novella Taratuta.

King, Sarah E. The Magical and the Monstrous: Two Faces of the Child-Figure in the Fiction of...

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