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Hernández, José (1834–1886)

Hernández, José (1834–1886)

José Hernández (b. 10 November 1834; d. 21 October 1886), Argentine poet, legislator, journalist, politician, soldier, and author of Martín Fierro. He exemplified the dual personality typical of the Argentine writer of the nineteenth century: a man of action and of thought. Paradoxically, although he created the most celebrated piece of Argentine literature, he was mostly a man of action. Endowed with great physical dexterity and well acquainted with the life-style of gauchos, Hernández enrolled in the army at age nineteen, fighting in the internecine wars between the central government and the provinces. He retired as assistant captain and in 1858 emigrated to the province of Entre Ríos, where he participated in the revolutions in that part of the country. There, Hernández began his journalistic career, but in 1859 he was back in the army as assistant to General Justo José de Urquiza, taking part in the battles of Cepeda (1859) and Pavón (1861). An opponent of General Bartolomé Mitre and of President Domingo F. Sarmiento, Hernández returned to Buenos Aires to found the newspaper El Río de la Plata, where he defended the gauchos and attacked Sarmiento. After participating in the Ricardo López Jordán rebellion, Hernández escaped to Brazil.

In 1872, back in Buenos Aires, he published the first part of Martín Fierro; the second appeared in 1879. He became a legislator (representative and senator) and was instrumental in founding the city of La Plata. His very active life illustrates his commitment to serve his country politically and militarily. It explains also the ideology of the heroic poem he created. Hernández wrote Instrucción del estanciero (1881; Education of the Rancher), and political and journalistic pieces that reflected his views as a public persona, citizen, and politician. In his ideology and language, Hernández epitomized the "interior" (provinces) of Argentina. His major work, the poem Martín Fierro, is a combative denunciation of social injustice and the virtual genocide of a social strata of the population, that of the gaucho. He adhered to the Argentine Confederation, a political alliance that confronted the Buenos Aires estancieros (ranchers) and defended the right of the provinces to share power with the domineering city. He defended the rights of the gauchos, unjustly and cruelly repressed by a government that reduced them to pariahs, without rights to possess land, real freedom, or a hopeful future.

See alsoGaucho; Literature: Spanish America.


Rodolfo A. Borello, Hernández: Poesía y política (1973).

Olga Fernández Latour De Botas, José Hernández (1973).

Juan Carlos Ghiano, "Hernández, en el centenario de su muerte," in Boletín de la Academia Argentina de Letras 51, no. 201-202 (1986): 293-301.

Antonio Pagés Larraya, "José Hernández," in Latin American Writers, edited by Carlos A. Solé and Maria Isabel Abreu, vol. 1 (1989) pp. 235-245.

Horacio Zorraquín Becú, Tiempo y vida de José Hernández (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Feinmann, José Pablo. Filosofía y nación: Estudios sobre el pensamiento argentino. Buenos Aires: Seix Barral, 2004.

Salaverría, José María. Vida de Martín Fierro: Y otros ensayos. Buenos Aires: Ediciones El Elefante Blanco, 2002.

Shumway, Nicolas. The Invention of Argentina. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

                                    Angela B. Dellepiane

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