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Azuela, Mariano (1873–1952)

Azuela, Mariano (1873–1952)

Mariano Azuela (b. 1 January 1873; d. 1 March 1952), Mexican writer. Azuela wrote more than twenty novels, numerous short stories, three plays, biographies, and books of essays. He was born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, and studied medicine in Guadalajara. From early on he alternated between practicing that profession and writing. He published his first book, the short novel María Luiza, in 1907, but did not receive international or even national recognition until the mid-1920s, when Los de abajo (The Underdogs) was "discovered" and praised as a great novel reflecting the cultural heritage of the Mexican Revolution. This book had originally appeared in serial form and then was published in one volume at the end of 1915 in El Paso, Texas, but the definitive edition was published by the author himself in 1920, when he moved to Mexico City. Azuela's narrative work is a vast mural on which appear the changes and critical characters of Mexican society in the first half of the twentieth century, beginning with the years immediately preceding the Revolution.

Honoré de Balzac and Émile Zola were decisive influences on his work. Latin American modernista literature (not to be confused with European and North American modernism) was clearly imprinted in Azuela's style.

Two qualities distinguish Azuela as a twentieth-century artist: the acuity with which he captures his characters as social actors, and the lucid way in which he insists, throughout all of his work, that Mexico's social and political problems are rooted in the moral decay of society. No one was better than he at portraying the opportunism, social climbing, resentment, and greed that arose during the Mexican Revolution and later spread throughout all of Mexican society.

Azuela's vision, however, was static and prototypical. His characters are not psychologically complex or capable of dramatic change, and his moralistic clarity becomes at times an obsession. This gives his work the air not of a great human comedy, but of a gallery of scenes with vivid, precise, and incisive images that lack perspective and movement. This mixture of strengths and defects explains why critical judgment and history have almost unanimously declared Los de abajo Azuela's masterpiece. It is not by chance that the subtitle of the book is Cuadros y escenas de la Revolución Mexicana (Sketches and Scenes of the Mexican Revolution) by which the author himself clearly shows that his vision is more episodic than dramatic. With all its defects, Los de abajo continues to be the most intense description of the revolutionary masses and all their contradictions.

Azuela's intense and austere realism influenced other major works, such as Martín Luis Guzmán's El águila y la serpiente (1928), Nellie Campobello's Cartucho (1931), Rafael F. Muñoz's Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1931), and Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo (1955). His works are available in Obras completas, edited by Francisco Monterde, 3 volumes (1958–1960).

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America .


Luis Leal, Mariano Azuela (1971), and "Mariano Azuela," in Latin American Writers, edited by Carlos A. Solé and Maria Isabel Abreu, vol. 2 (1989), pp. 457-464.

Stanley L. Robe, Azuela and the Mexican Underdogs (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Azuela, Arturo. Prisma de Mariano Azuela. Mexico City: Plaza y Valdés, 2002.

Leal, Luis. Mariano Azuela, cuentista. Santa Barbara: University of California, 2003.

                                    Jorge Aguilar Mora

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