The Novel of the Mexican Revolution
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0032
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0032
The term Novel of the Revolution refers to a group of narrative works inspired by and based on the events of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. These writings focus on the military actions, popular uprisings, political and social transformations, and the overall human suffering caused by the decade-long war. The canon of the Novel of the Revolution comprises an assortment of novels, short stories, autobiographies, biographies, and testimonial accounts of the war. During the armed conflict, authors coined the phrase Novel of the Revolution to describe narrative works that portrayed the violent events of the war. However, the term gained critical acceptance and a more precise definition after the war. In the polémica de 1925 critics eschewed foreign esthetic influences and encouraged writers to create a national literature. They proposed writing literary works that portrayed the military and sociopolitical struggles of the era. Though written ten years earlier, Mariano Azuela’s novel Los de abajo: Cuadros y escenas de la revolución actual (1915) (The Underdogs: Scenes and Portraits of the Ongoing Revolution) satisfied this criterion and was recognized as the first and paradigmatic Novel of the Revolution. Set in the battlefield and centered on the character types that participated in the war, Los de abajo became an example for Mexican novelists interested in creating a socially committed national literature. From 1915 to 1947 as many as one hundred different authors wrote approximately two hundred and eighty Novels of the Revolution, as discussed in Moore 1941 (cited in Bibliographies). Due to this enormous body of work, critics often disagree on which narratives should be classified as Novels of the Revolution. Some limit the canon to works that deal specifically with the destructive, military phase of the Revolution. Other scholars propose broader parameters for the genre and include works that are set in the period of fighting as well as those that depict the era of postrevolutionary reconstruction. Finally, some critics offer an even more inclusive definition, labeling Novels of the Revolution literary works that narrate the important historical events of modern Mexico before and after the war of 1910. This complex definition signals the richness of the subject and its scope. Critics generally agree, however, that the Novel of the Revolution began with Los de Abajo (1915) and concluded with Agustín Yáñez’s Al filo del agua (1947), a modern and experimental novel that portrays the effects of the Revolution on a small, traditionally religious town. Authors born under the regime of Porfirio Díaz, who witnessed the revolutionary war and sometimes participated in either the actual fighting or reconstruction, constitute the first generation of novelists of the Revolution. These include Mariano Azuela (b. 1873–d. 1952), José Vasconcelos (b. 1881–d. 1959), Martín Luis Guzmán (b. 1887–d. 1976), and José Rubén Romero (b. 1890–d. 1952). The second generation was born between 1895 and 1902. Adolescents during the war of 1910, many of these authors witnessed and experienced it viscerally, lending their prolonged support to the different fighting factions. These included José Mancisidor (b. 1895–d. 1956), Gregorio López y Fuentes (b. 1897–d. 1966), Rafael F. Muñoz (b. 1899–d. 1971), and Nellie Campobello (b. 1900–d. 1986). The last generation was born between 1904 and 1914. Before they reached adolescence the war was over. In a more peaceful country they honed their literary skills. However, the topic of the Revolution was still central to their literary production. The two best-known authors of this generation are Agustín Yáñez (b. 1904–d. 1980) and José Revueltas (b. 1914–d. 1975).
The Novel of the Revolution is of considerable importance to Mexican cultural and literary history and more generally to the development of modern Latin American literature. According to Fuentes 1969, the Novel of the Revolution marked the first significant change in Latin American literature, signaling the end of 19th-century realist and naturalist aesthetics. More importantly, the Novel of the Revolution anticipated many of the narrative structures, styles, and themes that novelists of the Latin American Boom would later develop. In Mexico, the genre’s objective point of view and stylized prose fostered a new reading environment in which readers recognized their experience of war novelized as national myths. The genre rendered the first portraits of many of the leaders, generals, soldiers, and women who together formed the revolutionary era. According to Franco 1994, the genre also cultivated the belief that literature was a tool for representing national culture. In other words, the Novel of the Revolution set a precedent for discussing social and political struggles from within literary dramas. The following studies evaluate the relevance of the genre in a broader context, mainly Mexican and Latin American literary traditions. Dessau 1967 offers a comprehensive study of the genre, tracing its evolution from narratives written about the conflict during the actual fighting, to narratives written about the war in the 1930s. Unfortunately, this study has not been translated into English, though a widely available Spanish translation does exist. Rutherford 1996 offers a compact synopsis of the genre and provides a precise definition of the Novel of the Revolution. A broader definition of the genre can be found in Albarrán, et al. 2004. In this essay the authors expand the genre’s parameters, as narrowly proposed by Rutherford, to include not only works that dealt with the actual era of fighting but with narratives about postrevolutionary reconstruction. Monsiváis 2007, a cultural and literary study of the genre, is an excellent contribution to understanding the genre in its broader cultural context. Brushwood 1970 presents a view of Mexican history as presented by the Novel of the Revolution. Finally, Morton 1939 offers biographical information on the novelists who wrote novels of the Revolution and offers synopses of many of the genre’s most important works.
Albarrán, Claudia, Juan Antonio Rosado, and Angélica Tornero. “Narrativa de la Revolución Mexicana.” In Diccionario de literatura Mexicana. Edited by Armando Periera, 332–336. Mexico City: UNAM, 2004.
An important entry that describes the genre and the many subgenres it spawned, including indigenist narratives, social narratives, and Cristero narratives. Also provides a comprehensive list of the many works that form the genre. No English translation is available.
Brushwood, John S. Mexico in its Novel: A Nation’s Search for Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970.
An examination of Mexican history as presented in the country’s novels. Brushwood’s essay offers an early panoramic portrait of the genre.
Dessau, Adalbert. Der Mexikanische Revolutionsroman. Berlin: Verlag Rütten & Loening, 1967.
The most complete study of the Novel of the Revolution, this work follows the development of the genre from novels produced during the decade of intense fighting to novels written about the complex society that emerged after the Revolution. Examines the ideological underpinnings of the Novel of the Revolution, providing extensive analysis and synopsis of dozens of novels. No English translation of this work exists.
Franco, Jean. An Introduction to Spanish-American Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
This work offers a general introduction to Latin American literature. It covers a broad range of periods from Independence to the early 21st century. Two significant chapters are relevant to the Novel of the Revolution: “Regionalism in the Novel and Short Story,” and “Realism and the Novel: Its Application to Social Protest and Indigenist writing.”
Fuentes, Carlos. La nueva novela hispanoamericana. Mexico City: Joaquín Mortiz, 1969.
An important essay by a founding member of the Latin American Boom, Fuentes recognizes the importance of the genre in modernizing Latin American literature.
Monsiváis, Carlos. “Notas sobre la cultura mexicana en el siglo XX.” In Historia General de México. Edited by Daniel Cosillo Villegas, 957–1075. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2007.
The foremost authority of Mexican popular culture provides an extensive and detailed panorama of the distinct literary, cinematic, and theatrical movements of the Mexican 20th century. This general overview provides an excellent discussion regarding the significance of the Novel of the Revolution. No English translation is available.
Morton, F. Rand. Los novelistas de la revolución mexicana. Mexico City: Cultura, 1939.
This early study is divided into four sections covering the major novels and the distinct generations that contributed to Novels of the Revolution. Morton provides an extensive concluding essay evaluating the significance of the genre in the history of the Mexican novel.
Rutherford, John. “The Novel of the Mexican Revolution.” In The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature: The Twentieth Century. Edited by Roberto González Echevarría and Enrique Pupo-Walker, 213–225. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
An important essay that offers a precise definition of the genre. Rutherford concludes that the importance of the genre comes from its contribution to the discovery of mexicanidad. The genre encouraged writers to surpass European literary traditions and “develop ways of writing more adequate for the portrayal of the American experience.”
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