Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 2

By Michael S. Werner | Go to book overview



1856-1930 · Writer and Politician

Born and educated during the rule of Benito Juárez, Emilio Rabasa's active participation in public life occurred under the rule of Porfirio Díaz. A staunch supporter of the dictatorship, he subscribed to the positivist creeds prevalent at the end of the century that maintained the Diaz government and its ideology in power. Rabasa, critical of future president Francisco 1. Madero's book on the presidential succession, later supported the coup by Victoriano Huerta that toppled the Madero regime. A politician, above all, Rabasa is, however, best remembered as a novelist. Before his brief incursion into the field of literature he was already established as a lawyer, professor, journalist, and politician having held numerous positions in the state and federal governments. After the five-year period as a man of letters, he dedicated himself to the tasks of being a jurisconsult (legal expert), professor, and juridical writer.

He began writing in 1886 and produced a tetralogy, the only work in Mexican literature comprising four related literary compositions. The novels, La bola (The Insurrection; 1887), La Gran ciencia (The Great Science; 1887), El cuarto poder (The Fourth Power; 1888), and Moneda falsa (Counterfeit Money; 1888), were written under the pseudonym of Sancho Polo. His last fictive publication, La Guerra de Tres Años (The Three Year War) appeared in 1891 in serial form in El Universal (a paper he founded with Rafael Reyes Spindola). This fine historical short novel was published posthumously in 1931.

His historical, social, and judicial writings support the ideas expressed in his fiction. A disillusioned liberal, he attacked the Constitution of 1857 for not extending enough power to the executive, leading to what he saw as the inevitable and necessary establishment of the Porfirian dictatorship. A follower of Justo Sierra, his project was immersed in the ideology of the Científicos, the pragmatic modernizers whose "order and progress" dictum followed the positivist ideas of economic laissezfaire and scientific determinism. His tetralogy recreates the period of transition ( 1870-85) between the Juárez regime and the Porfirian dictatorship, depicting the instability of the period of the Restored Republic, its insurrections and corruptions. His reconstruction of this historical period bordering the Diaz years implicitly justified the dictatorship by suggesting the "Porfiriato" as the higher stage of an evolutionary process in which Mexico would become a modern nation.

An admirer of Miguel de Cervantes and Benito Pérez Galdós, his novelistic discourse is inscribed within the conventions of realism. But although his realist narrative technique highlight his excellence in the portrayal of characters and customs that abounded in the rural and urban landscapes of Mexico, it is the naturalist aesthetic that informs his novels. He skillfully and subtly integrates the determinism of race, heredity, and environment prevalent in naturalism into his satirical portrayal of the period. Since his satire, however, focuses in particular on the political milieu and political ideas of the time, these novels can be better read as political novels. Underlying his apparently realist and excellent satirical style, his political novels are built around wellelaborated and artfully constructed plots. The characters' psychologies and motivations are carefully manipulated to convey a "political philosophy." Situated during the time prior to the consolidation of "La Paz Porfiriana," the novels direct attention to the barbarism of the preceding period.

The tetralogy follows the misadventures of two local characters from a provincial town to a state capital, and then to the nation's capital. In the style of the picaresque mode, a vehicle for social protest, the hero and anti-hero move horizontally in space and vertically through society. The novels illustrate the corruption of local caciques (strongmen) who seize power through local insurrections called bolas. The novels attack political opportunists and disclose the manipulation and power of the press. The theme of barbarism versus civilization becomes evident: The goal of modernization for Mexico, according to Rabasa, becomes all the more difficult given the "barbaric" character and condition of most of its population. The ignorant masses are incapable of governing. The misadventures of the protagonist and antagonist ends when they return to the provinces, allowing the criollo (Mexican of Spanish descent) urban classes to become the forgers of the modernized nation.

La Bola is considered the best of this ambitious project that succeeds in capturing an extensive social and political reality. It is this totalizing zeal that makes possible the undermining of the provinces and its amorphous masses (his intention), and the critique of corrupt members of the upper and governing classes. The cynical tone of disenchantment that pervades the narrative, the vicious struggles for power displayed, the uncontrolled banditry emphasized, and the isolation and poverty of the regions captured has prompted many to read Rabasa's novels as a critique of the Díaz regime. Paradoxically, La Bola—the local insurrection that Rabasa depicted and condemned in his novel and that became the title of the book—was the name given to the Revolution of 1910 that ended the Porfiriato and its ideology.


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Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editorial Advisory Committee ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Alphabetical List of Entries vii
  • M 765
  • N 999
  • O 1029
  • P 1043
  • Q 1211
  • R 1217
  • S 1325
  • T 1389
  • U 1471
  • V 1515
  • W 1595
  • Y 1631
  • Z 1633
  • Index 1645
  • Notes on Contributors 1731


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