Mariano Azuela 1873-1952
Mexican novelist, short story writer, playwright, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on Azuela's works from 1935 through 2002.
Mariano Azuela was one of the foremost Mexican authors of the twentieth-century and is remembered for his depiction of the Mexican revolution in novels such as Los de Abajo (1916; The Underdogs), Las tribulaciones de una familia decente (1918; The Trials of a Respectable Family), and La luciérnaga (1932). His best-known work outside Mexico continues to be his first major novel about the Mexican revolution, The Underdogs. The work is lauded as a masterpiece of modern Spanish-American fiction for Azuela's realistic and objective portrayal of the trials and tribulations of the revolution, as well as its social and political consequences. This work, along with his later novels, has led critics to place Azuela among the best authors of twentieth-century Mexico, especially in light of his significance to the development of the larger literary landscape in Latin America at the beginning of the twentieth-century.
Azuela was born on January 1, 1873, in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico. His parents, Evaristo Azuela and Paulina Azuela owned a grocery store in town and led a fairly prosperous, middle-class life. At an early age Azuela became interested in reading, and would often read books at his father's store. Azuela entered the seminary in 1887, but left a few years later to pursue a medical degree in Guadalajara. Azuela pursued his literary interests in addition to his medical education and in 1907, he published his first novel, María Luisa, based on the desperate conditions he witnessed while working as a physician in the slums of Mexico City. Azuela's writing became more politicized following the Mexican revolution of 1910, and most of his subsequent works incorporated both the historical events and political and social impact of the revolution. Except for a brief sojourn in Lagos, where he was elected to political office, and later working as a military physician for the revolutionary leader General Pancho Villa, Azuela spent most of his professional life in Mexico City. He died of a heart attack on March 1, 1952.
Azuela's early novels, including María Luisa, Los fracasados (1908), and Mala Yerba (1909; Marcela) are all concerned with the social inequalities he witnessed while working as a doctor in Mexico City. Praised for his vivid portrayals of social and cultural details, Azuela's writing in these novels was faulted by some for his lack of character and plot development. Following the revolution of 1910, which resulted in the ousting of dictator Porfirio Diaz, Azuela supported General Pancho Villa's claim to govern Mexico. Forced to flee the country with Villa, Azuela was able to return to Mexico City only after the close of the war. His novels during this time, including The Underdogs, Los caciques (1917; The Bosses), Las moscas (1918; The Flies), and The Trials of a Respectable Family, all chronicle the affects of the revolution in one way or another. While Azuela deliberately shied away from writing a political history of the revolution, instead focusing on its social and political impact on ordinary Mexicans, his work is lauded for its objective portrayal of the horrors of war and its aftermath. Of these novels, The Underdogs is considered his masterpiece, reflecting many of Azuela's concerns about his country. The novel follows the story of a poor country boy named Demetrio Macias, and his rise to power in General Villa's revolutionary army. After rising to power, Macias is corrupted by the very powers he is fighting against—greed and corruption. On the other hand, Azuela's next novel, The Bosses, tells the story of a powerful family of Diaz supporters who live in a small Mexican town. Once again, Azuela uses his characters to expose the injustice and corruption of the system that the revolution meant to overthrow. His next major novel, The Trials of a Respectable Family was somewhat of a departure from his earlier works—this time Azuela focused on the story of a prosperous, middle-class family as they try to survive during the revolution. Although this work was not well-received by critics at the time of its publication, probably due to its perceived sympathetic tone towards the wealthy families that the revolution intended to displace, it is now acknowledged as one of Azuela's best works, second only to The Underdogs. Azuela's later novels, including La Malhora (1923), El desquite (1925) and La luciérnaga are more experimental in nature. More focused on the techniques of writing than his previous works, these works nonetheless continue to reflect Azuela's concern with social and political justice in Mexican society.
Azuela is acknowledged as one of the most influential writers of twentieth-century Mexico. His works are considered remarkable not only because of the subject matter he explored in them but also because of his pioneering place in Spanish literary development. Influenced by many contemporary European writers, Azuela used a mixture of naturalism and modernism in his writing that, critics note, has deeply impacted Mexican writers in later decades. Despite the accolades, however, most critical study on Azuela in English has focused on The Underdogs, his novel about the Mexican revolution. The work was originally published in serial form in 1915, at the height of the revolution. However, it did not gain national or critical attention until 1920, when it was published whole, in a revised and expanded edition. Since then, the novel has been translated into numerous languages, with its first English translation being issued by Enrique Manguía, in 1929. Titled The Underdogs, it has generated a significant portion of the literary scholarship on Azuela, including issues surrounding its translation from the original. The Underdogs is also studied as a precursor to many of Azuela's later works, and in his review of these, Jefferson Rea Spell remarked that the imagery used in The Underdogs is often carried into more detail in Azuela's later works. In addition to his distinctive style, Azuela is also known for his consistent concern with Mexican social issues. This theme is constant in all his works, including his early novels, noted Bernard Dulsey in his survey of Azuela's depiction of the revolution in his works. Dulsey, like many other critics, also lauded Azuela for his honest and unflinching portrayal of both the positives and negatives of the revolution—ultimately, wrote Dulsey, Azuela viewed the revolution as only the beginning of a change that would eventually redeem Mexico. While acknowledging Azuela as one of the premier novelists of the Mexican revolution, Robert E. Luckey also pointed to the author's exploration or the general human condition in his works. Luckey wrote that this concern was especially apparent in Azuela's later works, many of which display a unique literary style that has served to maintain Azuela's place as one of the most influential Mexican novelists of the twentieth century.