Revivification and Revision: Horacio Quirogas Reading of Poe
Egan, Caroline, The Comparatist
Edgar Allan Poe suffered from a malady common to nineteenth-century American authors living on both continents: economic circumstances that necessitated a reliance on the market forces of a polity and society with which he clashed. Poe often criticized his contemporary social, political, and literary spheres, and expressed a particular distaste for what he deemed the "folly" of a national literature ("Exordium to Critical Notices" 1027). Perhaps as a remedy to this "folly," he wrote, "the world at large [forms] the only proper stage for the literary histrio" (1027; "Editorial Miscellanies" 1076). (1) In this declaration, Poe emphasizes an artistic cosmopolitanism that is not suggestive of a hypothetical global community, but rather, a severance that denies a particular political attachment. Ironically, at the time Poe claimed the world over nation as the stage for literature, the United States was extending its reach throughout this same "world at large," exemplifying a different cosmopolitan impulse that manifested itself in an expanding global presence and hemispheric hegemony.
This paper considers the variance of these two cosmopolitanisms--the negation of a national particularity proposed by Poe against the economic and political expansion at work on a global scale by the United States--as they emerge in several alterations made to Poe's work by the Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937). In his "Decalogo del perfecto cuentista" ("The 10 Commandments of the Perfect Short-Story Writer"), the status of Poe as a literary predecessor deliberately chosen by Quiroga is clear. The first of these commandments reads: "cree en un maestro--Poe, Maupassant, Kipling, Chejov--como en Dios mismo" (I) [Believe in a master--Poe, Maupassant, Kipling, Chekov--as in God himself]. Yet this principle is tempered by the third mandate on the list: "resiste cuanto puedas a la imitacion, pero imita si el influjo es demasiado fuerte" (III) [resist imitation as much as possible, but do imitate if the influence is too strong]. The tension between these two tenets--between choosing a model and resisting imitation--is evident in Quiroga's treatment of Poe, and illustrates moreover the tension between text and context--between the international proliferation of Poe's literary influence and the simultaneous growth and consolidation of U.S. influence in Latin America--that is necessarily attendant to Quiroga's adaptations of Poe. In the following discussion,
I trace the appearance of this tension in Quiroga's work through a comparative examination of his multiple renderings of Poe's 1846 short story, "The Cask of Amontillado." Over the course of about twenty years in the early twentieth century, Quiroga published "El tonel del amontillado" (1901; "The Cask of Amontillado"), "El crimen del otro" (1904; "The Crime of the Other"), "La lengua" (1921; "The Tongue"), and "Una bofetada" (1920; "A Slap in the Face"), each of which alludes to "The Cask of Amontillado." These distinct rewritings of Poe's classic tale demonstrate the development of an increasingly problematic engagement with Poe as Quiroga attempts to navigate between an aesthetic appreciation of Poe's works (and hence, his selection of Poe as model) and the shadow of Poe's socio-political context (i.e., his identity as a U.S. author). These rewritings, consequently, provide a critical index for the fin-de-siecle presence of the United States in Latin America.
A complex engagement with rewriting Poe emerges in the ambiguities of Quiroga's first rendering of "The Cask of Amontillado." "El tonel del amontillado," published in the collection Los arrecifes de coral (The Coral Reefs) in 1901, is a short narration whose title is a literal translation of the original. In this piece, Poe's Fortunato is disinterred, his clothing "aun polvoreado de cales" (82) [still dusty with limestone], and he enthusiastically recounts his past adventures to an unnamed narrator. In this short story, Quiroga dramatizes the process of rewriting by duplicating it: the story not only resurrects Poe's tale, but employs a literal process of resurrection, bringing Fortunato out of Montresor's vaults, still covered with limestone dust. …