The Purple Land

by W. H. Hudson

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First published: 1885

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure romance

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Locale: Uruguay and Argentina

Principal Characters:

Richard Lamb, an English adventurer

Paquita, his wife

Dona Isidora, her aunt

Lucero, a horse tamer

Marcos Marco, General Coloma

Margarita, his daughter

Don Peralta, a mad landowner

Demetria Peralta, his daughter

The Story:

Richard Lamb married Paquita without her father’s consent and eloped with her to Montevideo. There they went to see Dona Isidora, a relative of Paquita, and stayed with her for some time. Dona Isidora gave Lamb a letter to the overseer of the Estancia de la Virgen de los Desamparados, a ranch called in English Vagabond’s Rest.

Lamb departed with the letter, and in the Florida department, he began to learn the history of the unhappy land of Uruguay. The Argentines and Brazilians interfered in the country’s politics, and, as if the foreign influences were not enough to cause trouble, there was constant friction between the country and the town districts. At a pulperia, or tavern, he met Lucero, a horse tamer, and went to stay at his house; but he soon left Lucero and continued his journey to the estancia.

Lamb took advantage of rustic hospitality throughout his journey. One night he stayed at a house in which lived a family with many children. The children were all named after particular Christian concepts, such as Conception and Ascension. He departed early the next day, however, because there were far too many insects infesting the house for his comfort. Lamb continued his journey through Lucuarembo department and then entered the county of his destination. There he discovered that Dona Isidora’s letter meant nothing; there was no employment for him.

During his stay at the estancia, he had a fight with a man called Barbudo and gained a reputation for being a great fighter. When he discovered that his reputation as a fighter would only lead to more and bloodier fights, he decided to return to Montevideo.

At Toloso, Lamb met a group of English expatriates in a pulperia, and he remained with his fellow countrymen for a time. Finally, he found them to be quite worthless and quarreled with them. Then he headed once more for Montevideo. In the Florida department he met a lovely girl named Margarita and helped her get her doves from a branch in a tree. Margarita was so different from the rest of her family that Lamb could not help wondering how she came to be born into such a rough, coarse family. There he met Anselmo, who was an indefatigable talker and teller of pointless tales. There, too, he met Marcos Marco.

Lamb and Marcos started out to go to Montevideo together, but on the way they were captured by an army detail and taken prisoners because Lamb had neglected to get a passport. They were taken before a justice of the peace at Las Cuevas. Through the machinations of the justice’s fat wife, Lamb was free to move about until his trial. Marcos, however, was imprisoned. Lamb persuaded the fat wife into giving him the key to the fetters that bound his friend Marcos. Lamb freed his friend so that Marcos would be able to sleep comfortably in his captivity, but Marcos took advantage of his opportunity and escaped during the night. Lamb was a lover of nature; he captured a small snake and used it as a means to ward off the attentions of the justice’s wife. He was finally released.

Later, at the estate of Alday,...

(This entire section contains 1373 words.)

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he first heard of General Santa Coloma, who in reality was Marcos Marco. He told Anita, an orphan living with the Aldays, the story of Alma, who wanted a playmate, and Little Niebla. Anita also wanted a playmate, and the next morning she ran off to find one. Monica, the daughter of the household, searched for and found Anita. Monica then asked Lamb to tell her a story out of the great store of anecdotes he knew.

Lamb was taken to see General Coloma, whom he recognized as his friend Marcos. He joined the General and fought in the battle of San Paulo. The General explained to Lamb the mystery of Margarita; she was Coloma’s daughter.

When the battle of San Paulo ended badly for the General’s army, Lamb escaped. At a pulperia, he met Gandara, who wanted to take him prisoner because he had been a member of General Coloma’s army. Lamb shot Gandara and escaped. He stayed for a time at the home of an expatriate Scotsman named John Carrickfergus, but soon he continued his journey to Montevideo.

His next important stop was at the home of Don Peralta, who was demented. Don Peralta had lost a son, Calixto, who had been killed in battle several years before. Demetria Peralta, the daughter, was the heir to the estate, but she and everyone else were under the thumb of Don Hilario, the supervisor of the estate. When Lamb rode away, he left with Santos, a servant, who told him the history of the Peralta family. Demetria wished to marry Lamb and thus be able to take over and administer the property which was really hers. Lamb could not marry her, but he arranged to abduct her and take her to Montevideo, where she would be safe from Hilario. When they arrived safely in Montevideo, Paquita looked after Demetria as if she were her own sister. From Montevideo, they went to Buenos Aires, where the unsanctioned marriage of Lamb and Paquita promised to give still more trouble to the young couple.

Critical Evaluation:

Curiously, William Henry Hudson is not as famous for the two books (THE PURPLE LAND THAT ENGLAND LOST and FAR AWAY AND LONG AGO) that he wrote about an area that he knew well (the Pampas of Uruguay and Argentina), as for GREEN MANSIONS, a book written about an area that he did not know well (the Venezuelan jungle). Part of the true worth of THE PURPLE LAND (as it is commonly called) has thus escaped critics, who have not fully appreciated its worth as a sociohistorical documentary about an interesting part of the world during the embryonic decades of its history. Hudson knew and loved the pampa well. He had the unusual experience of being a talented Anglo-Saxon bred in the pampa during wild times. His powers of observation and description were notable, and readers are indebted to him for colorful vignettes of pampa life during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Many social types of Uruguay are clearly drawn in the pages of THE PURPLE LAND. The confusion of the times is also mirrored, when a wild, loosely knit society was taking control of the rolling, green pampa of Uruguay, a place blessed with deep topsoil, green grass, and ample water. Armies of gaucho cavalry flying white pennants from their lance tips (the Blancos, or Whites) battled armies of gaucho cavalry flying red pennants from their lance tips (the Colorados, or Reds). They initiated the traditional struggle between these two political factions for dominance of the Republic of the Left Bank (Banda Oriental, or East Bank) of the Uruguay River. Richard Lamb’s adventures are therefore more meaningful than they may seem at first glance, for through them readers gain insights into the Uruguayan life of the times. Many rural types, customs, and above all the terrible political drawbacks of the times are depicted.

Lamb’s apparently aimless travels are also typical of the life of the times, and Hudson enriches his narrative with many details of sociology and natural science. Hudson is one of the great masters of sensuous prose. Perhaps the reason for this stylistic skill is the fact that he was a botanist, and the keenness of observation required in scientific writing is reflected in his choice of adjectives and verbs. The interesting and adventurous phases of life on the rolling pampa, with its purple tints at twilight, are also presented. Although Uruguayan literature had produced some of the best works from South America in the novel and poetry, this novel written by a foreigner occupies a position of merit in the letters of Uruguay.