Mariano Azuela Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mariano Azuela (ahs-WAY-lah) is considered the leading Mexican novelist of the first half of the twentieth century. He produced not only the highly acclaimed cycle The Underdogs, but until his death chronicled assiduously the unfolding drama of Mexican history in his times. Azuela was born into a middle-class family; he studied medicine in Guadalajara and returned to his native city to practice in 1900. Soon his office became a meeting place for members of the local intelligentsia. He married that same year, and he and his wife had ten children together. He seemed assured of the peaceful, comfortable life of a recognized provincial doctor.

In 1907 he published María Luisa, which is based on a tragic case he observed during his student years in Guadalajara. Already in his earliest writing, Azuela raised his voice against the social ills he perceived in Mexico, which was undergoing the first stage of modernization under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Azuela reached the peak of his early maturity in the novel Marcela: A Mexican Love Story, a powerful indictment of the feudal landholding system still prevalent in Mexico at that time. In its melodramatic story line, naturalistic precision, social critique, and depiction of the confrontation of human beings and nature, the work is characteristic of the Latin American “novel of the land” of the 1920’s and 1930’s. In Mexico the mystique of the land was suffused with history.

When the Mexican Revolution erupted, Azuela, who supported Francisco Madero’s side, was named political head of his native town. Yet he realized very soon how skewed the revolutionary process was and how self-destructive the idealist Madero....

(The entire section is 703 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mariano Azuela was born into a provincial, middle-class family in Mexico; his father owned a local grocery store in Lagos de Moreno, a town in eastern Jalisco. In 1887, the young Azuela went to Guadalajara to study for the priesthood but left the seminary two years later, deciding instead to pursue a medical career. He qualified as a doctor at the University of Guadalajara in 1889; during his student days he also read much nineteenth century literature, which influenced the fiction he later wrote. In 1900, he married Carmen Rivera, with whom he had ten children.

Azuela was a supporter of Francisco Madero, who eventually dislodged President Porfirio Díaz in the national elections held in 1912. For his support, Azuela was rewarded with the post of jefe político (political chief) in Lagos. Madero, however, was not to remain in power for long (he was murdered and succeeded by his own minister of war, Victoriano Huerta, in 1914) and, given that Azuela supported Madero, it is no wonder that he saw the ensuing events of the Mexican Revolution (with the rapid successions and deaths of leaders Venustiano Carranza, Álvaro Obregón, and Emiliano Zapata) as a process of mindless carnage. He witnessed military action in 1914-1915 while working as a surgeon in the army of Julián Medina, then of revolutionary Pancho Villa.

After the latter’s northern division was routed, Azuela crossed the U.S. border in 1915 and took refuge in El Paso, Texas, where he completed the text that would make him famous. The Underdogs was published in a local Spanish-language newspaper in El Paso, El Paso del Norte, in twenty-three weekly installments from October to November (for which Azuela was paid ten dollars per week). Azuela brought out a revised, expanded version of the novel at his own expense in Mexico City in 1920 and, quite by chance, it caught the attention of the reading public in 1924, bringing him instant fame. As a result, Azuela was able to exchange his stethoscope for the pen, and he remained a writer until the end of his life. Some of his later works, such as The Trials of a Respectable Family and The Firefly, gave him some notoriety, but it was The Underdogs that earned him fame in Mexico and abroad. Azuela died on March 1, 1952, and, in keeping with a writer of his stature, was buried in the Rotunda of Illustrious Men in Mexico City.


Mariano Azuela was born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico in 1873. His family were grocers and Azuela spent his youth on a small farm owned by his father. At fourteen, he enrolled in a Catholic seminary. He went to Guadalajara to study medicine and returned to Lagos in 1909 to start his practice. In 1896, he published stories in a weekly newspaper in Mexico City. He published his first novel, Andres Perez, in 1911.

Azuela was a young liberal who supported the uprising against the dictator Porfirio Diaz. In 1911, Azuela was named Director of Education of the state of Jalisco. Among great disorder and dissension, President Diaz was forced to flee. Madero assumed leadership in Mexico, which prompted more turmoil including his assassination in 1913.

At this point, Azuela joined the army of Pancho Villa as a doctor after Madero’s assassination. His first-hand observations of the revolution are the basis of The Underdogs. He wrote much of the work at a campfire during marches with Villa. His accounts are similar to those of Luis Cervantes in the novel.

In the army of General Julián Medina, Azuela was named head of the medical staff. This general became the inspiration for the main character in The Underdogs, Demetrio Macías. The counter-revolutionary forces of Huerta began a strong counterattack and Azuela retreated to El Paso, Texas. In 1915 he wrote The Underdogs as a serial in El Paso del Norte, a newspaper. The work was largely unnoticed until 1924. Azuela’s frustrations and disappointments with the revolution are the basis of the novel. The initial idealism of the revolution gave way to deplorable acts. With every injustice that had been set right, another action diminished the success. The Underdogs influenced later Mexican novelists who followed his work as a guide for social protest writing.

In 1916, Azeula returned to Mexico and lived in Mexico City working as a doctor to the poor and continued writing. His later works criticized the new regime. Las Moscas and Los Caciques were together translated into Two Novels of Mexico: The Flies. The Bosses. He was awarded the Mexican national prize for arts and sciences in 1949. He died in 1952 in Mexico City.