González Prada, Manuel (1844–1918)

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González Prada, Manuel (1844–1918)

Manuel González Prada was a noted Peruvian poet, essayist, and social reformer. Like José Martí and Rubén Darío, González Prada was a poetic innovator developing a style that would later be dubbed modernismo. Yet unlike the other two thinkers, who held important ambassadorial posts and worked as international correspondents for important North and South American newspapers, González Prada's literary influence was limited mostly to Peru, where his impact can be noted in the works of José Santos Chocano, César Vallejo, José Carlos Mariátegui, and José María Eguren. A poetic leading light, González Prada imported into Spanish forms from other European languages such as the French-trilet and rondel. His prose style was electric and shocking, employing daring metaphors, neologisms derived from other languages, and a rejection of pure Spanish forms, which for him were a vestige of colonialism.

Born in Lima on January 5, 1844, Manuel G. Prada, as he often signed his name, came into his own after the War of the Pacific (1878–1883), which devastated Peru's economic and social structures. Gonzalez Prada's penetrating and biting essays did not mince words about the reasons for Peru's losses in the conflict. During the war many Peruvians of African and Asian descent—seeing an opportunity for liberty—rose up in a social revolt, whereas others, of the landowning elite, went over to the Chilean side in the hopes of preserving their property; still others, the mass of Quechua-speaking soldiers, did not understand the creole concept of Peru as a nation among Latin American nations and were not inspired to win the war on creole terms. Thus González Prada laid the blame for Peru's defeat squarely on the Peruvian people.

Responding to his inflammatory speeches against the ruling elite, the government censored his work, actually destroying some of the newspaper presses that published him. During those postwar years González Prada helped to establish a new political party, the Unión Nacional, which named him candidate for the presidential elections. Yet he was dismayed by the opportunistic switch by many of his party's members to the oligarchic parties. Disillusioned with this reality (and upset over his wife's two miscarriages), he went on a long journey to Europe (1891–1898). There he came into direct contact with anarchist thought, which prompted him to simplify his writing style and create an ideological system liberated from aristocratic panache and accessible to the working class. This new modernism was intimately related to the modernity resulting from and responding to industrial and monopolistic capitalism.

González Prada published two books of prose during his lifetime, Páginas libres (1894, 1915) and Horas de lucha (1908), as well as three books of poetry, Minúsculas (1901, 1909), Presbitarianas (1909), and Exóticas (1911). He died on July 22, 1918. The rest of his work remained forgotten in newspapers and magazines until his son Alfredo and the noted APRA politician and literary critic Luis Alberto Sánchez began collecting his poetry and prose, ultimately making possible the seven-volume Obras published during the 1980s. Since then scholars have engaged in a reassessment of González Prada's politics and poetics. Efraín Kristal has shown that his civilismo lasted longer than previously thought; Thomas Ward has shown that his anarchism can be documented earlier than had previously been accepted and that his anticlericalism did not imply atheism; and Isabelle Tauzin has traced his creative trajectory comparing different published versions of his published works. This new-found interest in González Prada is resulting in a new critical edition developed by Isabelle Tauzin in France, the first English translation of his essays edited by David Sobrevilla published by Oxford University Press, and the publication of some hitherto unknown works discovered by Isabelle Tauzin and released by Peru's National Library.

See alsoAnarchism and Anarchosyndicalism; Chocano, José Santos; Darío, Rubén; Eguren, José María; Literature: Spanish America; Mariátegui, José Carlos; Martí y Pérez, José Julián; Matto de Turner, Clorinda; Palma, Ricardo; Positivism; Vallejo, César.


Primary Works

Obras, 7 vols. Edited by Luis Alberto Sánchez. Lima: PetroPerú, 1985–1989.

Textos inéditos de Manuel González Prada. Edited by Isabelle Tauzin Castellanos. Lima: Biblioteca Nacional, Fondo Editorial, 2001.

Free Pages and Hard Times: Anarchist Musings. Translated by Frederick H. Fornoff; edited by David Sobrevilla. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Secondary Works

Chang-Rodríguez, Eugenio. La literatura política: De González Prada, Mariátegui y Haya de la Torre. Mexico: Andrea, 1957. See especially pp. 51-125.

Kristal, Efraín. The Andes Viewed from the City: Literary and Political Discourse on the Indian in Peru, 1848–1930. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. See esp. pp. 93-126.

Mead, Robert G. Perspectivas interamericanas: Literatura y libertad. New York: Las Américas, 1967. See especially pp. 103-184.

Sánchez, Luis Alberto. Nuestras vidas son los ríos …: Historia y leyenda de los González Prada. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1977.

Tauzin, Isabelle, ed. Manuel González Prada: Escritor de dos mundos. Lima: Biblioteca Nacional, 2006.

Ward, Thomas. La anarquía inmanentista de Manuel González Prada. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.

Ward, Thomas. "González Prada: Soñador indigenista de la nación." In La resistencia cultural: La nación en el ensayo de las Américas, pp. 160-177. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma, 2004.

Velázquez Castro, Marcel. Las máscaras de la representación: El sujeto esclavista y las rutas del racismo en el Perú, 1775–1895. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2005. See especially pp. 249-264.

                                           Thomas Ward

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González Prada, Manuel (1844–1918)