Pedro Prado Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Pedro Prado 1886-1952

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Alvaro J. de Credo) Chilean poet, novelist, and essayist.

Prado is acknowledged as one of the most important and innovative modernists in the Latin American literary tradition. He is credited with extending the boundaries of poetry and fiction in his native Chile, notably by introducing free verse there. In addition, his later experiments in the sonnet form are thought to demonstrate not only his technical expertise, but also his elegant use of both philosophical idealism and skepticism in celebration of the human spirit. In his fiction Prado is said to have argued for an elevation of hope and meaning in an age of social and philosophical crises. His novel Alsino (1920), in particular, has been singled out as his masterpiece for its blending of regionalism, realism, and allegory in a sustained appeal for human salvation.

Biographical Information

Prado was born on 8 October 1886 in Santiago, Chile. He received his secondary education at the Instituto Nacional in Santiago and later enrolled in the engineering school of the University of Chile. He never completed his studies at the university, but instead worked for a time as an architect; the structure that now houses the United States Consulate in Santiago was designed by Prado. In 1905 he published his first work of fiction, a short story entitled "Cuadro de estío: el inválido" under the pseudonym Alvaro J. de Credo, and several more of his stories appeared in the journal Zig-Zag over the course of the next few years. He published his first collection of free verse Flores de cardo in 1908. In early 1910 he married Adriana Jaramillo Bruce, and later that year founded the short-lived literary and intellectual journal Revista Contemporánea. Meanwhile Prado continued to produce more volumes of poetry, mainly free verse and prose poems, and in 1914 published his first novel La reina de Rapa Nui. The following year he founded a small artistic society known as Los Diez (The Ten); he also published a collection of poems and a review under the same name. The community flourished for a short time, while Prado continued with his individual pursuits, including the composition of his second and most widely acclaimed novel Alsino. As he continued to write Prado also became more involved in public life. Between 1921 and 1925 he served as director of the Museo del Bellas Artes in Santiago, later, in the years 1927 and 1928, he was employed as a university lecturer on aesthetics and art history. During this same period Prado acted as the Chilean diplomat to Colombia as well, serving for approximately eighteen months. In 1933 he experienced a serious bout of illness. His declining health appears to have been an important factor in his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1936. His literary output from this period onward was largely concentrated in his production of verse in sonnet form, notably in the collection Esta bella ciudad envenenada (1945). In 1949 Prado was honored with the Chilean National Prize of Literature. He died at his home in Viña del Mar on 31 January, 1952, after suffering a severe cerebral hemorrhage.

Major Works

A gifted writer in multiple genres, Prado's literary reputation rests equally between his poetry and his fiction. His early volume of poetry Flores de cardo represents his experimentation with free verse in a series of mostly nostalgic and romantic poems. This collection was followed by La casa abandonada: Parábolas y pequeños ensayos (1912), which contains both prose poems and several parables. Critics note the Prado's most enduring verse appears in his later, more philosophical sonnet collections, particularly in Camino de las horas (1934) and Esta bella ciudad envenenada. As for Prado's fiction, interest in it has generally been focused on his three novels. Though largely overshadowed by his later works, La reina de Rapa Nui (1914) is still considered a fictional tour de force. Set on Easter Island, Prado's first novel is made up of many stories relating to a former queen of Rapa Nui (the native name for the island) and the first-person narrative of an outside journalist covering a severe drought there. Prado infuses his story with a sense of approaching cataclysm as he details a civil war and the ultimate destruction of this mysterious civilization. Considered his finest fictional achievement, Alsino reflects Prado's skilled blending of social realism and mythological symbolism. The allegorical novel presents the world of an unfortunate Chilean peasant boy named Alsino who shatters his back during an attempt to fly. From the resulting hump Alsino magically sprouts wings, only to become the victim of fear, hatred, and prejudice. Critics note that the work not only contains an inquiry into the appalling living conditions endured by Chile's rural poor, but also represents a sustained examination of human alienation in its imaginative rendering of the classical Icarus myth. His final novel Un juez rural (1924; Country Judge: A Novel of Chile) was thought by some Chilean readers to be an autobiographical account of a period Prado spent as a district judge. The work is generally viewed as a critique of prejudice and injustice. Its protagonist, a judge without a law degree or any formal judicial training, uses common sense, his conscience, and a simple belief in what is just to resolve disputes, but finds himself viciously attacked for his views. Rather than being a narrow, denunciatory work, however, Un juez rural manifests a sense of humor and optimism.

Critical Reception

Although considered a modernist, Prado has been said to surpass much of the intellectualizing formalism of his contemporaries in works that ultimately seek to apprehend truth and find beauty. While recognition of his works has been in large part limited to the Spanish-speaking world, his influence has been considerable in Latin America, with critics noting the effects of his writings on authors of wider international reputation, such as Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. His position in the development of Latin American literature in the first half of the twentieth century is considered unique. Alexander Coleman has summarized it as follows, "No writer of his time, and possibly no writer since, at least in Chile, has more successfully combined philosophy, aesthetic good sense, fiction, and poetry."