Peruvian Traditions

Peruvian Traditions

Peruvian Traditions

Peruvian Traditions

Synopsis

Peruvian author Ricardo Palma (1838-1919) was one of the most popular and imitated writers in Latin America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As head of the National Library in Lima, Palma had access to a rich source of historical books and manuscripts. His historical miscellanies, which he called "traditions," are witty anecdotes about conquerors, viceroys, corrupt and lovelorn friars, tragic loves and notorious characters. Humor, irony and word play characterize his collection of over five hundred traditions written between 1872 and 1906, whether describing violent deeds or amorous misadventures. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the second half of the nineteenth century, Palma did not write transparent didactic fictions and defend elite cultural forms. Rather, he reveled in ironic approaches to written sources, political authorities and church institutions as well as in popular speech and knowledge. Both fiction and history, Palma's delightful Peruvian Traditions represents a hybrid literary form that constructs historical memory distinct from the dominant literary trends of the time.

Excerpt

In January of 1881 the Chilean army occupied Lima after a string of naval and land victories over Peru's poor defenses. To the horror of its inhabitants, Chilean regulars vandalized parts of the city, cutting down trees, destroying monuments and fountains, and pillaging all valuables from the medical school, including the wooden benches in the lecture halls. Worst of all, the National Library was taken over by occupying forces and transformed into an army barracks. the library held some 50,000 books and 8,000 rarities, including colonial accounts of the Autos de Fé that had taken place in Lima, an edition of Plato dated 1491, and the Mozarab Missal of Toledo of 1500. Almost the entire contents of the library, including portraits of historical personages such as Pizarro and the Spanish Viceroys, were destroyed or dispersed by Chilean soldiers, who shipped some valuables to Chile and sold many of the books to innkeepers in Lima for use as wrapping paper.

The assistant director of the library was Ricardo Palma, a celebrated man of letters who had retired from political life in 1872 to pursue research and writing. When Chilean forces advanced on Lima, they set fire to his house, destroying his personal library and several unpublished manuscripts. Displaced with his wife and children in Lima, Palma deplored the destruction of the National Library and drafted a letter of protest for the director of the library, Manuel de Odriozola, to sign. “To seize upon the libraries, archives, cabinets of physical and anatomic . . .

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