Hernández, Felisberto 1902-1964
HERNÁNDEZ, Felisberto 1902-1964
PERSONAL: Born October 20, 1902, in Montevideo, Uruguay; died 1964, in Montevideo, Uruguay; married four times.
CAREER: Author and musician.
La cara de Ana, Mercedes, 1930.
Por los tiempos de Clemente Colling, Ganzález l'Anizza, (Montevideo, Uruguay), 1942.
Nadie encendía las lámparas, Editorial Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1947.
La casa inundada, cuentos, Editorial Alfa (Montevideo, Uruguay), 1960.
Tierras de la memoria, Arca (Montevideo, Uruguay), 1965, translation by Esther Allen published as Lands of Memory, New Directions (New York, NY), 2002.
Las hortensias, Editorial Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1974.
El caballo perdido y otros cuentos, Calicanto Editorial (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1976.
Obras completas de Felisberto Hernádez, Siglo Veintiuno Editores (Mexico), 1983.
Piano Stories, translated by Luis Harss, Marsilio Publishers (New York, NY), 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: Felisberto Hernández was a precursor of the school of magic realism. His formal education was irregular due to his uneven attendance at school, yet he was an autodidact and avid reader of both Proust and Freud. He became a serious music student, studying piano with a gifted instructor who was blind. Hernández pursued a career in music before beginning to write, and for many years earned his living performing concerts and as an accompanist to silent films. Later he was employed by the government to verify tangos played on the radio so that copyright fees could be collected.
Hernández's literary work is often mentioned in conjunction with that of Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Italo Calvino, all of whom admired him greatly. Attention to detail, and the creation of an atmosphere of mystery that is at the same time revealing, are all characteristics of his work. His short stories, novels, and novellas are known for the evocation of the unknown and the mysteriousness of ordinary life. Hernández has been described as a slow and patient writer, because the impressions he portrayed were allowed to unfold completely. Subtlety and nuance were never sacrificed to expediency. Images of music and film, along with the exploration of memory are also common features of his fiction.
Hernández's Piano Stories has been singled out by many authors as a significant influence on their own development as writers. Suzanne Jill Levine recalled, in her article in the Washington Post, the words of Gabriel García Marquez, "If I hadn't read the stories of Felisberto Hernández in 1950, I wouldn't be the writer I am today." In this book are some of his most famous works, including "The Balcony," "The Flooded House," and "Except Julia." He is known for his leaps of imagination. In one story, everything is related from the point of view of a horse. In another, eyes are described as lights which have the ability to influence other people and even possess the object in view. Naomi Lindstrom pointed out in American Book Review that "all of Hernández's narrators, even the occasional third-person voice, share a characteristically childlike animism, exhibiting a profound respect for the hidden vitality of supposedly inanimate objects, both forces with which their human owners imbue them and powers intrinsic to things in and of themselves."
Hernández further enhanced the mysterious qualities of his pieces when he described his process of writing in an essay titled "How Not to Explain My Stories." He claimed his stories have a kind of independent life, implying that he did not have the degree of authorial control often assumed by the reader. Lands of Memory, another volume of Hernández's fiction, has been translated into English by Esther Allen. Included are short stories and a novella. The volume is distinguished by an unusual and imaginary autobiography, The New House and a novella, Around the Time of Clemente Colling, the main character of which was fashioned after Hernández's own piano teacher. The translations into English of this Uruguayan author's work have been praised for their sophistication and delicacy.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the TwentiethCentury, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Latin American Lives, Macmillan Library Reference (New York, NY), 1996.
Latin American Writers, Supplement I, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York, NY), 2002.
Reader's Encyclopedia, 4th edition, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 1996.
American Book Review, August, 1994, Naomi Lindstrom, review of Piano Stories, p. 19.
Booklist, November 15, 1979, review of El caballo perdido y otros cuentos, p. 490.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Lands ofMemory, p. 838.
Nation, October 7, 2002, Ilan Stavans, review of Lands of Memory, p. 31.
New York Times, July 7, 2002, Michael Pye, review of Lands of Memory, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 1993, review of PianoStories, p. 98.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1994, Brooke Horvath, review of Piano Stories, p. 203; fall, 2002, Ben Lytal, review of Lands of Memory, p. 156.
Washington Post, August 8, 1993, Suzanne Jill Levine, review of Piano Stories, p. 4.
World Literature Today autumn, 1983, Ana María Hernández, review of Nadie encendía las lámparas y otros cuentos, p. 610, 611; winter, 1992, Naomi Lindstrom, review of Narraciones incompletas, pp. 97-98.*