Ricardo Güiráldez

The Argentine poet and novelist Ricardo Güiráldez (1886-1927) is most widely known for his evocative novel Don Segundo Sombra, about the passing away of the gaucho's style of life.

Ricardo Güiráldez was born in Buenos Aires on Feb. 13, 1886, into a distinguished Argentine family. As an infant, he was taken to Paris, where he learned French before Spanish. He was a world traveler from his earliest years and, in a sense, adopted Paris as his spiritual home. Yet he always maintained a deep love for the Argentine pampa and, especially, for the family ranch, La Porteña, at San Antonio de Areco. His university education was spotty, as he shifted from architecture to law, finishing neither.

However, a genuine passion for literature was awakened in Güiráldez through the intensive but informal reading he did during these student years. The modernist author Rubén Dario and the influential Argentine poet and writer Leopoldo Lugones had a strong influence on Güiráldez's esthetic formation. But later exposure to European literature, especially that of French writers Gustave Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire, and Stéphane Mallarmé, accounted for much of his stylistic grace and elegance.

Travels and Early Work

Güiráldez left Argentina in 1910 for Paris on what proved to be a long sojourn throughout Europe and Asia. He returned to Buenos Aires in 1912 and, in 1913, married Adelina del Carril, who became his intimate intellectual companion until his death in 1927.

Güiráldez was now sure he wanted to be a writer. In 1915 his first two books appeared:El cencerro de cristal, a collection of his apprentice poetry not too favorably received by reviewers; and a volume of short stories, Cuentos de muerte y de sangre, which, revealing some of the same stylistic shortcomings, suffered a similar fate.

In 1917 Güiráldez published Raucho, his first novel, begun in Paris and finished in Argentina in 1916. It is a seemingly autobiographical work, full of nostalgia and a sense of two places—the "outer world" of Paris and other exotic cities and the lovingly evoked pampa.

During the last decade of his life Güiráldez combined travel (three more trips to Europe) with energetic collaboration on a number of influential but short-lived literary magazines that appeared in Buenos Aires. Some of his collaborators were Jorge Luis Borges, Norah Lange, Oliverio Girondo, and Macedonio Fernández.

Crowning Success

In 1920 Güiráldez had completed in Paris the first 10 chapters of a novel to be called Don Segundo Sombra, inspired by the character and experiences of an old peon who worked at the family ranch. But he did not finish it then. In 1922 he published a slight, sentimental novel entitled Rosaura. And in 1923 he completed Xaimaca, another romantic tale, written in diary form, that had a tropical cruise as its setting.

However, fame did not come to the author until 1926, when he published Don Segundo Sombra, but then it was immediate and overwhelming. Perhaps no novel has ever appeared in Argentina to the accompaniment of so much acclaim. Güiráldez was able to catch on these pages the essence of a way of life, as seen through the eyes of a ranch boy, and, by means of a highly sensitive prose style, infuse that special type of existence—the disappearing way of the gaucho—with a near-mythical quality.

This was the culmination of Güiráldez's life. Shortly after the publication of Don Segundo Sombra, the author discovered he was afflicted with Hodgkin's disease. In March 1927 he left for the last time for Paris, in vain search for a cure. On October 8 of that year he died in Paris.

Further Reading on Ricardo Güiráldez

The principal study of Güiráldez in English is Giovanni Previtali, Ricardo Güiráldez and Don Segundo Sombra:Life and Works (1963). See also Enrique Andersonlmbert, Spanish-American Literature:A History (1954; trans. 1963; 2d ed., 2 vols., 1969).