María Luisa Bombal (bohm-BAHL) is one of the best-known Chilean fiction writers. She was born in Viña del Mar, Chile, on June 8, 1910. Her father died when she was nine years old, and at the age of twelve she traveled to Paris with her mother and sisters. She received most of her formal education in France, receiving a degree in French literature from the Sorbonne. The years in France had a profound effect on Bombal’s literary development: She was exposed to the work of many avant-garde artists; she attended lectures by Paul Valéry, studied violin with Jacques Thibaud, and was a member of Fortunat Strowsky’s literary workshop, where she won her first prize as an author for a story written in French. She also continued to read and write in Spanish, a language to which she referred as a secret love, a natural impulse to be cultivated in private. Among the books she would later speak of as important to her development were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1779), Ricardo Güiraldes’s Don Segundo Sombra (1926), and the novels of Selma Lagerlöf. She would later be profoundly moved by her readings of Virginia Woolf’s fiction and essays.
When one of her uncles discovered that she was acting at L’Atelier, a theater workshop directed by Charles Dullin, María Luisa Bombal was abruptly sent back to Chile in 1931. She moved to Buenos Aires two years later, accompanying her longtime friend poet Pablo Neruda and his wife. She became a part of the group of illustrious writers gathered around Victoria Ocampo and her magazine, Sur, and much of her fiction first appeared in the pages of this publication. She became friends with other writers such as Federico García Lorca, Alfonsina Storni, Conrado Nalé Roxlo, and Jorge Luis Borges. In 1934, Bombal wrote her first novel, The Final Mist, while she shared a kitchen table with Neruda, who was working on Residence on Earth, and Other Poems. Both of these books were landmarks in Latin American literature at the time of their publication. The Final Mist, published in 1934, incorporated techniques of French avant-garde writing in order to depict Latin American reality in a new way. The book startled and excited its readers with its new possibilities of perception and description. The Final Mist is a narrator’s account of her life within a sterile marriage and the dreams, hopes, and fantasies that make her survival possible. In the novel, there is no clear dividing line between concrete facts and fantastic imaginings. Reality is a mysterious mixture of factual events, dreams, and fantasies. Subjectivity and objectivity cannot be defined separately, and the fusion is both lyrical and ambiguous. At first, the novel seems to be an account of the narrator’s...
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