Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Nelson Estupinan Bass and the Historico-Political Novel: From Theory to Praxis

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Nelson Estupinan Bass and the Historico-Political Novel: From Theory to Praxis

Article excerpt

In his first novel, Cuando los guayacanes florecian (1954),1 Nelson Estupinan Bass uses a prologue and an epigraph as potent rhetorical devices. The former issued under the heading "Aclaracion necesaria," highlights the salient compositional features of the work, attributes which underscore its historico-social context and are consistent with characteristics associated with the historical novel. The latter, an excerpt from a treatise on the history of Ecuador, is a harsh condemnation of the Concha revolt, the historical event around which most of the novel's action develops.2 On the one hand, the prologue reveals that the author set out to produce an historical novel. On the other, the epigraph provides one perspective of the political implications of the Concha movement Together, these two preliminary units suggest as appropriate the classification of the work as historico-political. The purpose of this study, an assessment of the novel from this angle, dictates -- as the most appropriate point of departure - that the contents of the novelist's prologue be examined in th~ light of what some students of the historical novel have said about that genre.

The novelist's prologue reads as follows:

Esto no es historic: es novels. A excepcion del General Eloy Alfaro, del Coronel Carlos Concha y del Sargento Lastre, - personajes historicos, nombrados en razon del tiempo en que se desarrolla el relato - y de la "revolucion" de Concha - hecho historico -- todos los demas personajes y acontecimientos son products de la imaginacion. Cualquier semejanza con la realidad es una invohmtaria coincidencia. (I, 13)

In the first place, the author reveals that he has not given to prominent historical figures significant roles in the novel when he states that those named in it, General Eloy Alfaro, Colonel Carlos Concha and Sergeant lastre, are mentioned only because they belong to the historical moment in which the action of the novel develops-the period of the Concha uprising (1913-1916) in the Ecuadorean province of Esmeraldas. Then, he affirms that all the other characters and incidents are products of his imagination. The author's final comment to the effect that any resemblance between his creations and real people and events is coincidental suggests that he sought to recreate through fictional characters and incidents certain aspects of the life of the age about which he was writing. The extent to which these remarks echo formulations about the historical novel will emerge in the following brief summary of pertinent ideas of three representative students of that genre.

In his essay on the historical novel written in the last decade of the nineteenth century, the British critic George Saintsbury cautions against "decanting too much of your history bodily into your novel" and "allotting too prominent a position and too dominant an interest to the real persons and the real incidents of the story," common flaws encountered in otherwise good attempts at the genre. In addition, he provides the following guidelines for creating a skeletal outline of the historical novel: "... Intermix historic interest and the charm of well-known figures, but do not incur the danger of mere historical transcription; still more take care that the prevailing ideas of your characters, or your scene, or your action, or all three, be fantastic and within your own discretion."3

On the issues at hand, the views of Herbert Butterfield, another British critic, appear to coincide with George Saintsbury's. In his essay on the historical novel written some thirty years after Saintsbury's, Butterfield argues that a vital aspect of that creation involves the portrayal of the concerns of ordinary characters with major historical events or major historical figures relegated to the background. The critic develops this crucial point in the following manner

Perhaps the most impressive way of bringing great men into the historical novel, is not the method which makes their lives and careers the central theme of the book at all, demanding intimate treatment, and close appreciation and analysis. …

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