The Unbelievably Tragic Life Of Uruguay's Most Famous Writer
June 11, 2018|María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Perhaps what made Horacio Quiroga's literary work so eerie and compelling was the fact that he lived through so much.
There’s no doubt that there are people with great luck and others that, well, live a life of constant disappointments and misfortune. Most probably, a good number of you reading this believe you’re the unluckiest person in the world. I tend to think that from time to time, and most of the time, it’s due to really random and lame situations in life that, for some reason, I pay a lot of attention to. The truth is that, no matter how many terrible and awful things happen to me, or most of you, there’s no way I can compete with a man whose life was literally a chain of tragic events. In many ways, his life was more cursed that most of his characters’. His name was Horacio Quiroga, one of the best Latin American writers ever, and a man who knew how to turn all his demons and bad omens into amazing and compelling literature.
Born in 1877, Horacio Quiroga had probably one of the most tragic and unfortunate lives in history. When he was only two years old, his father accidentally fired his gun on a hunting trip and killed himself. That would be the first of many deaths and tragedies in his life. He had a relatively normal childhood and adolescence, until he would get a glimpse of what was in store for him. Many years after the death of his father, his mother remarried a man who treated him quite well. However, after a terrible stroke that left him semi-paralyzed, his stepfather entered an appalling depressive state that led him to shoot himself right in front of the young Quiroga. This episode would haunt him forever.
Wanting to explore new things in his life, with the money that his stepfather had left him (which was a considerable amount of money) he decided to visit Paris, the capital of intellectualism at the time, and his all-time dream city. However, things didn’t go as he planned, and after some horrible months, he returned to Uruguay penniless and beaten down. Still, he was determined to turn things around, and on his return, he called some of his friends to found what they would call The Consistory of The Gay Science, a literary experimental lab to try new narrative techniques.
Thanks to his friends and the connections he was making along the way, in 1901, he published his first book, called Coral Reefs, but the sudden happiness and sense of success would be overshadowed by the terrible death of two of his brothers who lost their battle against typhoid fever. Now, if you think that was one shitty year, not that long after, one of his closest friends and co-founder of the literary laboratory, Federico Ferrando, asked him to be his godfather in a duel against a journalist. Wanting to make sure that both were in fair conditions, he offered to clean the gun that Ferrando was going to use, however, while doing so, he accidentally shot the gun. The bullet hit Ferrando in his mouth killing him instantly. He was arrested, but after four days, the authorities agreed this had been just an unfortunate accident.
Miserable and plagued by guilt, he decided to move to Buenos Aires to continue with his career, but most importantly to start over. He started working as a Spanish professor at a British School and continued working on his writing. By 1903, together with his idol and now friend, Leopoldo Lugones, he went on an expedition into the Argentinian jungle, which impressed him so deeply that he decided to actually use the last money he had of his inheritance to buy a piece of land in northern Argentina. Of course, things weren’t going to be that easy, or even successful. His cotton plantation failed due to several problems with his workers, so he had to go back to the city for a while.
He had never experienced a huge passion in life for an activity, so in 1906, he decided to buy a bigger piece of land in Misiones, which would become his permanent home, even when he wasn’t there. There, he continued working as a professor and fell in love with one of his students, Ana María Aires, to whom he dedicated his novel, History of a Troubled Love. In spite of her parent’s opposition to the relationship, after a lot of effort, Quiroga managed to marry her, and the happy couple moved to the jungle where they had two kids.
After some idyllic years, things started getting nasty. Ana María hated rural life and wanted to move back to the city with her children to provide them a different life than the one they were having. Their relationship was rapidly falling apart to the point that during one of their constant fights, Ana María took mercury chloride, the substance used to develop photographs. She didn’t die instantly, but it was just a matter of days. Once again, Quiroga had to flee from his home in the hopes of finally having a peaceful life. With his kids, he moved back to Buenos Aires, where he started working at the Uruguayan Consulate while keeping up with his literary work.
For many years he would come and go from Misiones to Buenos Aires, until he met María Elena Bravo, one of his daughter’s classmates, almost thirty years younger than him. They married and moved to the jungle house, where he had another daughter. Once again, his partner didn't share his passion for the jungle and adventure, and eventually María Elena and his daughter left him. Apart from that, in the midst of his terrible marriage, he started getting terrible pains in his groin that were later diagnosed as prostatitis. His poor health continued to deteriorate to the point that he decided to look for better treatment in Buenos Aires. However, it was too late. He had prostate cancer in a very advanced stage.
He spent his last days feeling miserable on a hospital bed. He wrote to one of his friends that he didn’t even want to read anymore. Then, on February 19th, 1937, when the nurses and doctors went to his room for a daily visit, they found his dead body. He had killed himself by drinking a full glass of cyanide. He died, but it would seem that the tragic curse was going to be passed to those close to him. That same year, his eldest daughter, Eglé, also killed herself. Just one day before Quiroga’s death anniversary, his greatest friend Lugones also took his life by drinking cyanide. In 1951, his second son, Darío, followed his father's, mother's, and sister’s path, ending the curse that followed one of the best Latin American writers of all time.
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