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Displacement in Isabel Allende’s Fiction, 1982–2000


Mel Boland

This book explores the concept of displacement in the fiction produced by the Chilean writer Isabel Allende between 1982 and 2000. Displacement, understood in the author’s analysis to encompass social, geographical, linguistic and cultural phenomena, is argued to play a consistently central role in Allende’s fictional output of this period. Close readings of Allende’s texts illustrate the abiding importance of displacement and reconcile two apparently contradictory trends in her writing: as the settings of her fiction have become more international, questions of individual identity have gained in importance. This discussion employs displacement as a means of engaging with critical debates both on Allende’s individual texts and on her status as an original writer. After examining in detail the seven works of fiction written by Allende during this period, the book concludes with reflections on the general trajectory of her work in this genre.


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Chapter 1 An Introduction to Displacement in Isabel Allende’s Fiction


In spite of Allende’s obvious talents, there is not a single ounce of origi- nality in the 300 pages of [Retrato en sepia]; one may read on, enthralled, but one never gets lost in another world in the way one does with the best books. — Ilan Stavans1 I am an eternal foreigner; the daughter of diplomats, a refugee, an immi- grant. I have started from scratch in a new place with a new language several times, so I am not attached to objects. — Isabel Allende2 Introduction: Unoriginal Sin? At first glance, critic Ilan Stavans’s scathing description of Chilean author Isabel Allende’s sixth novel, Retrato en sepia [Portrait in Sepia],3 published in 2000, may appear to be a strange point of departure for an examination of Allende’s fiction, but his comment is apposite for a number of reasons: 1 Ilan Stavans, ‘Do you remember?’, The Times, 5 October 2001, [accessed 18 June 2012]. 2 Isabel Allende, The Guardian, 14 April 2008, Section G2, p. 14, [accessed 23 July 2012]. 3 Isabel Allende, Retrato en sepia (Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 2000). Further references will appear parenthetically in the text. 4 Chapter 1 first, Stavans is one of many critics who consider Allende’s works a quali- fied success; while he acknowledges positive features such as her ability to tell stories, he nevertheless cites a lack of originality as one of the key failings of this novel. In Stavans’s eyes, the novel is engaging, but lacks an original, compelling or radically dif...

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