Rómulo Gallegos Freire

views updated

Rómulo Gallegos Freire

Rómulo Gallegos Freire (1884-1969) was Venezuela's most noted novelist, a teacher, and a political leader. Though he became president of his country, his fame rests on the vivid description of the Venezuelan people in his novels.

Rómulo Gallegos was born in Caracas on Aug. 2, 1884. He chose secondary school teaching as his vocation and during the 1920s instructed many young men who as university students mounted a rebellion against the tyranny of Gen. Juan Vicente Gómez and later became leaders in Venezuelan politics.

Literary Career

However, it was not as a teacher or political leader that Gallegos was to achieve greatest fame. In 1921, when he was 37, he published his first novel, Reinaldo Solar. Five years later his second work, La Trepadora, appeared. But Doña Bárbara (1930) brought him worldwide attention. This fictional portrait of a typical character of the Venezuelan interior was immediately popular in Venezuela and was widely read in other Spanish-speaking countries.

Among those who read and admired Doña Bárbara was Gómez, who offered Gallegos a seat in the Venezuelan Senate. However, unwilling to serve the dictator, Gallegos used an excuse to go abroad and did not return home until after the death of Gómez.

Meanwhile, Gallegos continued to turn out his novels. These included Canaima (1934) and Pobre negro (1937), which, like their predecessors, dealt with various groups in Venezuelan society. What is often considered his masterpiece is Cantaclaro, concerning the adventures of a wandering cowboy minstrel in the great plains of Venezuela. As did most of Gallegos's other works, it relied heavily on local dialect and the social circumstances of preindustrial Venezuela.

Political Involvement

With the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935, Gallegos became increasingly involved in politics. He supported efforts of some of his former students to organize a nationalist left-wing party of democratic orientation, the Partido Democrático Nacional. In 1941 he agreed to be the party's symbolic candidate for president against the government's nominee, Gen. Isaias Medina Angarita. But Gallegos stood no chance of election.

During the next few years Gallegos devoted himself principally to literary activities, but he also supported the action of his party (now called Acción Democrática) in joining with a group of young military men to seize power in October 1945. Thereafter, he served for some time as president of Acción Democrática.

In December 1947 Gallegos was the successful Acción Democrática candidate for president and was inaugurated 2 months later. However, almost from the beginning his government was faced with conspiracy by some military elements who opposed civilian control of the government. They deposed him on Nov. 24, 1948, and sent him into exile. He spent the next 9 years in Cuba and Mexico, where he wrote two new novels: La brasa en el pico del cuervo about Cuba and La brizna de hierba en el viento dealing with Mexico.

Upon the fall of the military dictatorship which had succeeded his regime, Gallegos returned to Venezuela in January 1958. In accordance with the new Constitution of 1960, Gallegos held a seat in the Venezuelan Senate as a democratically elected former president. However, he seldom attended Senate sessions, since his health did not permit this. After a long illness Gallegos died in Caracas on April 4, 1969.

Further Reading

There is no detailed study in English of Gallegos. Aspects of his political career are discussed in Robert J. Alexander, The Venezuelan Democratic Revolution: A Profile of the Regime of Rómulo Betancourt (1964), and John Martz, Acción Democrática: Evolution of a Modern Political Party in Venezuela (1966).

Additional Sources

Dunham, Lowell, Rómulo Gallegos: an Oklahoma encounter and the writing of the last novel, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press 1974. □