There is in the novel the exaltation of an elite agrarian way of life, idyllic, edenic, that contrasts vividly with the violence of life in the llanos and, especially, with the activities of the highwaymen. Moreover, there is a delicate love story that develops pari passu with the official activities of the main protagonists. The development of the female characters may seem a bit quaint for today’s tastes, though they are beautiful and carefully drawn. An irrepressible humor, at times subtle, pervades the entire novel.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Translator’s Note
- Part I
- Chapter 1 The March
- Chapter 2 The Travelers
- Chapter 3 A Good Cure for Nostalgia
- Chapter 4 How Appearances Deceive
- Chapter 5 The Prisoner
- Chapter 6 Resurrected
- Chapter 7 Doctor Sandalio Bustillón
- Chapter 8 A Look Backward
- Chapter 9 My Kingdom for a Horse
- Chapter 10 Hacienda “El Torreón”
- Chapter 11 On the Shores of the Lake
- Chapter 12 Don Carlos’s Guest
- Chapter 13 The Lion in a Sheep’s Skin
- Chapter 14 A Bad Memory Detracting from a Thankless Impression
- Chapter 15 Do Good, Think Not to Whom
- Chapter 16 Idyl through a Trellis
- Chapter 17 Other Types from Our Old Times
- Chapter 18 Roaring Jealousies and Expanding Hearts
- Part II
- Chapter 1 White Wings at the Bottom of a Cave
- Chapter 2 Old Worries
- Chapter 3 Sybil and Mother
- Chapter 4 Preposterous Projects and One More Illusion Dispelled
- Chapter 5 Turn Three Times and You’ll Find It
- Chapter 6 Metamorphosis
- Chapter 7 The Brush’s Kiss
- Chapter 8 A Seasonable Advice
- Chapter 9 Grains of Sand That Will Turn to Mountains
- Chapter 10 The Feast
- Chapter 11 The Nightmare of Romerales
- Chapter 12 A Graphic Response
- Chapter 13 Privilege of Windows That Open on to Orchards
- Chapter 14 Prerogatives of Orchards on Which Some Windows Look
- Chapter 15 The Great Man Hunt
- Chapter 16 The Jaguar and the Dogs
- Chapter 17 An Abyss
- Chapter 18 A Hand for a Head
- Chapter 19 A Feeble Light to Brighten Dreadful Dark
- Chapter 20 Daring Dazzling Valor
- Chapter 21 The Wedding
- Chapter 22 A Demon Turned to Archangel
- Chapter 23 God’s Justice
- Series index
Eduardo Blanco y Planas, the author of Zárate (1882), was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 26, 1838, and he died there on June 30, 1912, aged 74. His parents were Domingo Blanco y Blanco de Uribe and Josefa Planas y Guaderrama, who had married in Caracas in 1818. Domingo, his father, came from an illustrious family, he being first cousin of Bolívar’s mother, Concepción, who was a niece of don Pedro Palacios y Sojo (“el Padre Sojo”), founder of the Escuela de Música de Caracas. “From him she inherited her delight in music,” writes Augusto Mijares, “for it is known that doña Concepción played the harp.”1 The Blancos and the Palacios were families of definite intellectual inclinations and of fine sensibilities. Eduardo married Trinidad Blanco y Toro, and they had four children, three boys and one girl.
Young Eduardo attended a secondary school called “El Salvador del Mundo,” but by the late 1850s, he had joined the military services and shortly thereafter was chosen as aide-de-camp to General José Antonio Páez, then about sixty years old, who had been placed in charge of national affairs during the “Long War” that devastated the new country.←ix | x→
In 1875, Blanco, who was then thirty-seven and a Coronel in the army, published his first works, a story titled “Vanitas vanitatum” and another one with the name, “El número ciento once.” Both works appeared in a weekly, La Tertulia. A contemporary critic, Felipe Tejera, wrote:
Intelligence slumbers often in a prolonged gestation, like the lava that boils silently at the heart of the mountain, then suddenly explodes, and the summit, serene till then, is crowned with fiery plumes. Such was the unexpected transfiguration of Eduardo Blanco: those who thought him a hero discovered him turned into a poet; the warrior exchanged his sword for the pen, and instead of waging battles, he wrote novels. This is why, when he published his first romances.
The wonder of this rare metamorphosis was so great that opinions were divided as to the genuine paternity of such works, which, besides, originally appeared under a pseudonym. People could not agree that Blanco was capable of writing a novel. Even his friends doubted it. Parnassus hesitated to open its doors to someone who had never been seen riding Pegasus, but only the bare back of Babieca.2
Blanco would go on to write many other novels, like Una Noche en Ferrara (1875), La Casaca del buen tío don Zenón (1882), a play, Lionfort (1879), stories like Claudia y Amelia, Cuentos fantásticos (1893), Las Noches del Panteón (1895), Fauvette(1905), Tradiciones Epicas y cuentos viejos, probably published posthumously in Paris, as well as the celebrated Venezuela Heroica (1881), which has been forever associated with his name. As Dr. Key Ayala has written, “Eduardo Blanco is Venezuela Heroica, and Venezuela Heroica is Eduardo Blanco.”3
Blanco’s style is romantic and, in Venezuela Heroica, epic. Augusto Germán Orihuela says that Blanco “was a writer by temperament and by vocation. Writing was for him a pleasure and a need. He knows the secret springs of emotion; he possesses the gift of color and form in his literary images. He relishes his times and projects this taste to the generations that follow.”4 But he is not a model of historical scholarship, because during the romantic period, Venezuelan writers were generally responsible for the flourishing of the cult of ←x | xi→the heroes of the Independence Wars. According to Liscano, they became the apostles of a “Second Religion” that saw Bolívar as a kind of messiah, and the other heroes as spectacular saints. “The War for Independence was another Trojan War; the patriot generals resembled heroes assisted by gods,” which the critic will have eventually to reduce to human terms. “History, in the hands of Blanco,” he writes, “is like a vast mythological canvas in which heroism is the daily nourish.”5
Undoubtedly, this is true; but as José Martí wrote in the Preface to Venezuela Heroica, a major purpose of the book is to awaken in us the irresistible desire to imitate its heroes, something the book has obviously done since its first edition. Blanco’s purpose, like Homer’s in writing the Iliad, was to recreate this epic on Venezuelan soil for the edification of his readers. He may have been inspired to do this by Marshal Juan Crisóstomo Falcón (1820–1870), who, when Blanco visited the battlefield of Carabobo accompanying Páez in 1861, turned the visit into an informational tour, placed his hand on the shoulder of the young aide-de-camp and told him, “Young man, you are listening to the Iliad from the very lips of Achilles.”6
One should also bear in mind that warriors like Bolívar and Páez were at the time disgraced political figures. Bolívar had survived assassination attempts, and he had died in Santa Marta vilified and alone; Sucre, his young general, had been assassinated in Guayaquil, and Páez had lived the last ten years of his life in exile in New York, where he had died.
Moreover, the scholarly re-adjustment that has been made over the past two hundred years has not been guided by a pure desire for historical truth. No. Lurking in the interstices of narrative, often unseen, has been the worm of envy, the desire to cut every excellence to the democratic size of all, to make truth what everyone can see, and greatness what everyone can be. Almost one hundred years ago, Ortega y Gasset identified this infection in a new movement, “the revolt of the masses” (1930), the revolt of the ordinary against the extraordinary, of the pedestrian against the genius, of millions and millions of Sanchos against the one Quijote. The dethroning and secularization have been infected by the bacillus of pure ressentiment.
Bolívar knew he was exceptional. On the shore of the Tequendama River, he eyed a solitary stone at the very edge of the waters falling precipitously some 400 feet, and shod in boots with heels fringed with iron strips, he took ←xi | xii→the stone for base, jumped, and stretched himself up, impervious to noise and vertigo, erect, facing the abyss, so sure was he of his prowess.7 And in that mystical and mystifying note of 1823, “Mi delirio sobre el Chimborazo,” he answers Time:
“Oh Time, how could a miserable mortal not feel dizzy when he has climbed so high? I have surpassed all men in fortune, for I have raised myself above the heads of all. My feet encompass the earth; I reach the Eternal with my hands; I feel the infernal prisons squirm beneath my steps; next to me I see the shining stars, infinite suns; without astonishment I measure the space that matter girdles, and in your face I read the History of the past and the thoughts of Destiny.”8
By this time Bolívar had liberated from Spain most of South America.
Unamuno has preserved for us the record of the dialogue Bolívar had with his doctor, where, on his death-bed, he confessed, “Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and I, have been the greatest majaderos the world has known.”9
Blanco was a member of the History and Literature faculties at the Universidad Central of Caracas. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs (1900–1901) in the government of Dictator Cipriano Castro (1899–1908) and, again, in the Education Ministry (1903–1905).
Eduardo Blanco was crowned “Poet Laureate” on July 28, 1911, at a literary function in the Teatro Municipal of Caracas.
Barnola considers Zárate the first truly Venezuelan novel.10 Dabove comments that “the first venezuelan novel stricto sensu is Los Mártires (1842), by Fermín Toro, but given that its theme is not venezuelan (it takes place in England), it cannot be subsumed under the heading of national novels.”11
Barnola maintains that a properly venezuelan literature is one in which the content and the attitude are decidedly nationalistic,12 not just written in Venezuela by venezuelan authors; it is, rather, literature that is fully ←xii | xiii→venezuelan, national, criolla, expressive of the content, ambient, and tone typical of venezuelans in all their fulness.13 Zárate is such a work. In it, writes Barnola, “everything is criollo, everything is venezuelan.”14
Santos Zárate, the protagonist of the novel Zárate, was a venezuelan highwayman whose stronghold was in the forest of Güere, and who terrorized the Valleys of Aragua. He was a historical figure who, on June 15, 1814, helped Mariño escape the onslaught of Boves. But Blanco made use of another sinister personage to complete his depiction of Zárate. This individual was Martín Espinosa, chief of a gang of outlaws who also operated in the llanos. Lisandro Alvarado writes that “he was totally illiterate, and he considered an enemy anyone who knew how to read and who was white.” And he adds:
He dressed like a llanero, and he was always accompanied by a gang member equally unlettered, who played the role of a diviner (and who therefore was called Wizard), and whose task was to point out the victims by means of a black cross he wore round his neck. With the sadistic traits of an inquisitor, he satisfied his thirst for vengeance by torturing the victims before their execution.15
Blanco will imbue Zárate with some of these traits, and will introduce a character similar to the Wizard in the person of Tanacia.
The action of the novel takes place in 1825, a few years after Venezuela had sealed its independence from Spain by defeating the Spanish forces at the Battle of Carabobo, June 24, 1821.
At this time, General Francisco José de Paula Santander, was Vicepresident of the Gran Colombia, the conglomerate of Colombia and Venezuela that had fought Spain for its freedom. General José Antonio Páez governed the Venezuelan region, with his headquarters in Valencia; and the entire nation readied itself to confront the great scourge of the times, the terrible and feared marauders that sowed apprehension and terror among the residents of the Valleys of Aragua and, under another ring-leader, Cisneros, in the Valles del Tuy.
It is my task to render the novel into English, but not to interpret it, or to comment about it. This work has been done very ably by Barnola, and also by Key Ayala, Dabove, Paulette Silva Beauregard, and others. While the novel ←xiii | xiv→may be legitimately read as a convoluted love story, there are several other important themes touched upon in the course of the narrative.
To begin with, there is in the novel the exaltation of an elite agrarian way of life, idyllic, edenic, that contrasts vividly with the violence of life in the llanos and, especially, with the activities of the highwaymen. Zárate, writes Dabove, “is a place where the contradictions and impossibilities of the national project, especially its essential ties to violence outside the law,”16 form a kind of subtext to the main action of the novel. Moreover, there is a delicate love story that develops pari passu with the official activities of the main protagonists. The development of the female characters may seem a bit quaint for today’s tastes, though they are beautiful and carefully drawn; note that by the time Zárate was written, Nora had walked out of A Doll’s House, Annie Besant was a well-known theosophist and advocate for Indian Independence, and Madame Blavatsy was discoursing on her secrets; Elisabeth (“Sisi”), Empress of Austria, was parading her beauty throughout Europe, Manuelita Sáenz, Bolívar’s paramour had died, and my grandmother, Josefina Blanco (daughter of the author’s second cousin) had obtained an official “Teaching Degree.” But this is, after all, a novel of the Romantic period.17
An irrepressible humor, at times subtle, pervades the entire novel. All this goes to say that Zárate is a complex piece of literature that can be enjoyed fully only when the cultural and historical circumstances are taken into consideration.
- XVI, 320
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2021 (December)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XVI, 320 pp.