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Isaacs, Jorge (1837–1895)

Isaacs, Jorge (1837–1895)

Jorge Isaacs (b. 1 April 1837; d. 17 April 1895), Colombian poet, politician, and ethnologist. Born in Cali, to an English father—a Christian convert from Judaism—and a Catholic Spanish mother, Isaacs was also Indian, Catalan, and Italian. He epitomized the Spanish American quest for personal and cultural identity in his life and his works. Educated in Cali and Bogotá, he soon showed his strong, varied, and captivating personality. At seventeen he enlisted in a revolutionary army; he later fought in several civil wars and summarized the history of one failed revolution in La revolución radical en Antioquia (1880). Although he entered politics as a Conservative, his rebellious nature pushed him to the Liberal Party, whereupon he declared, "I have moved from shadow to light." Once involved in politics, he applied either democratic or authoritarian means to make good on his party's programs.

Isaacs traveled through La Guajira as secretary of a scientific commission for the study of natural resources. Lacking even experienced guides, the daring Isaacs began the exploration on his own and succeeded in finding coal mines and oil fields.

More than as a poet, explorer, politician, or ethnologist, Isaacs is known as a novelist for his only and unique novel. María (1867; Maria, 1890) won him a place in history and in the hearts of millions around the world. Published in every Spanish-speaking country and translated into many languages, María caused critics to proclaim it the "most exquisite sentimental novel" and "one of the most beautiful creations and … closest to perfection" for its "clear aesthetic conscience." Latin America, in its postindependence search for identity, found itself in María's landscape and humane romantic soul. After a life dedicated to his country and in the midst of economic hardships, Isaacs died of a disease contracted during his exploratory treks.


Additional Bibliography

Cortés, Aura Rosa. Facetas desconocidas de Jorge Isaacs, el humanista polémico. Cali, Colombia: República de Colombia, Ministerio de Gobierno, 2005.

López Cano, Luis Francisco. La tumba de María Isaacs: genesis y desarrollo de una leyenda vallecaucana. Bogotá: Ministerio de Cultura, 2002.

                              J. David SuÁrez-Torres

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