Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, April 29, 2011

Horacio Quiroga-"The Feather Pillow"-a story by the Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon Jungle

"The Feather Pillow"  by Horacio Quiroga (1907, 5 pages)

The First South American Master of the Short Story

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article on him HERE that details his numerous romances.   What is important to know for understanding the background of "The Feather Pillow" is that he took his greatest love (who he married-several of women died on him), a city girl , to live on his jungle farm totally against her parents wishes who thought it far to dangerous.   His in laws ended up moving to the same jungle area to keep and eye on their daughter.)

"The Feather Pillow" (translator unknown) does sound a bit like  Edgar Allan Poe set in the jungles of the Amazon.   There are only two characters in the story, a man and his new bride.   I wanted to quote from the story to give you the feel of his work but when I attempted to make a selection I found I could not really leave anything out.   I will relay the outlines of the first half of the plot.   

The bride, for whom the honeymoon was "three months of hot and cold shivers" begins to become ill.   She is left alone all day in an old semi-mansion in the jungle while her husband works.   She loves him but he is "rough".   He loves her deeply but it is not in his nature to express it.     She begins to become ill.   The doctors say it is influenza.   Her health never really returns after this.   She gets weaker and paler every day.   She begins to hallucinate and scream in fear of creatures no one else can see.   Her most persistent fear was of "an anthropoid poised on his finger on the carpet next to her bed staring at her".   The illness gets worse only at night.   When ever she awoke she always had the sensation of a million pound weight on top of her.   When she would drag herself out of the bed in morning now she refused to allow the bed to be made or disturbed in anyway.  She now spoke of monsters that dragged themselves into her bed at night.   She gets worse and worse.   The doctors say they do not understand at all.   Her husband paces the floor for the last two days of her life as she screams out.    After she is dead a servant comes to her husband and tells him there is blood on the pillow.  That is all I will say as I really hope some will read this story.

The ending is not inferior to any horror type story I have read.    There are all sorts of ways to look at the meaning of the ending.   I think it might be a great class room story as for sure the ending will get people talking about the story

Quiroga is said to have had a large influence on the South American short story.     There are collections of his short stories in English and Spanish on (I wondered what he would make of that name?)    "The Feather Pillow" is his most famous story.   As far as I can find (please correct me if I am wrong) it is his only work in English you can read online.   

You can read it HERE.

"The Feather Pillow" seems a near must read to me.  It is super atmospheric (you can feel the jungle), it has a deep insight into something or other ( please don't laugh here  until you have   read it an can explain the meaning -if there is one-of the ending), it is fun and scary and I bet you have never, I know I had not, read any thing by an author from Uruguay.     He helped begin the tradition of magic realism in South America.   It is also fun to read.   


Anonymous said...

Oh my! This is one of the month's literary discoveries. It sounds so dark, so Poe-ish, so interesting. I am definitely saving it for later on.



P.S Your two kitties are wonderful and look squeezable.

Mel u said...

bookandreviews-after you have read it, please come back and tell me how you liked it-I hope you enjoy it-thanks for your visit and comment

Myosotis said...

"Fun to read"...? Really? :)
I only read it in Spanish, but I am sure we ARE talking of the same story.

Anyway, MY personal favourite of his is "The Desert".

Certainly it is much less "fantastic", but heart-breaking.

Mel u said...

Myosotis-I wil look for the work you mentioned-I found the story fun to read-thanks for stopping by my blog and I hope you can return