Horacio Silvestre Quiroga Forteza was born in Salto, Uruguay, on the 31st December 1878. He was the fourth child born to the couple Juana Petrona Forteza (Pastora) and Prudencio Quiroga. On the 14th of March 1879, his father dies when his shotgun backfires whilst hunting in the mountain by San Antonio Chico stream. The same year, the mother and four children go to live in Cordoba (Argentina), on doctor’s orders. Nothing is known about those years. They return to Salto in 1883. Horacio attended the Hiram School where he received his primary education and then the Osimani and Llerena High School. His friends, Delgado and Brignole, say that he stood out for his unruly character and his lack of interest for curricular studies. He preferred his individual scientific experiments and his own choice of reading. In 1891 his mother marries Ascencio Barcos. Horacio builds a close relationship with his stepfather, who, as a consequence of paralysis, commits suicide in 1896.
He is interested in chemistry, carpentry, photography, fencing and most of all, cycling. He founds the Salto Cycling Club in 1893. In 1896, along with some friends he forms an adventure group, “the three musketeers” (there were actually four of them: Julio J. Jaureche, Alberto Brignole, José Hasda and himself, who was known within the group as D’Artagnan.)
Horacio’s life is linked from an early age to literature. In 1897 he collaborates in magazines in his home city, The Reform and The Social Review. In 1898 he falls in love with María Esther Jurkowski. The sad breakup of this relationship (her parents take her to Buenos Aires) will be the subject of the story A season of love and the play The sacrificed women. He eventually directs a publication, The Salto Review (1899-1900) of which 20 editions would be released and in which he accumulates countless articles and pieces of creative writing by himself and his friends. It is a period saturated by an adherence to Modernism and, in particular, to Leopoldo Lugones.
On the 30th of March he travels to Paris, a journey of which he keeps a “journal” which will be published posthumously. He establishes contact with the Café Cyrano de Paris literary circle and attends the Louvre’s Global Exhibition, of which he writes his impressions, to be published in Salteñan magazines. But, above all and according to his own confession (“Believe me Payró, I only went to Paris for the cycling”) he made it his priority to attend the races and note down the times of the competitors who he admired. The trip was brief and disappointing. On the 12th of July he arrives back in Montevideo.
After his return from Paris he passes barely a few days in Salto and starts his period in Montevideo. With a group of friends from Salto he founds the group that they would call – using the medieval term – “Consistorio del Gay Saber”, with the headquarters in his own house on 25 de Mayo, number 118 and later in Cerrito 113. Quiroga himself takes the role of “Pontiff”, Federico Ferrando as Archdeacon, Julio J. Jaureche as Sacristan, Alberto Brignole as Bell Ringer and two Altar boys: Asdrúbal Delgado and José María Fernández Saldaña. “The Consistorio” was a true laboratory, not only modernist, but with vanguards that were more suggestive and individual than studied and European. He publishes in the magazines The Gladiator and Red and White and wins second place in a short story competition in the weekly magazine Daybreak.
In 1901 the battle standard and weapon of the group takes form: the publication of Quiroga’s book, The coral reefs.
An unfortunate accident occurs on the 5th of May 1902, whilst trying to teach his friend Federico Ferrando how to use a pistol, causing Ferrando’s death. With him dies the Consistorio. Quiroga is invaded by an uncontainable desire to forget the tragedy. After completing legal investigations, which leave him naturally free of blame, he sets himself up in Buenos Aires in his sister María’s house.
His brother in law, Francisco Forteza, recommends a placement as a Spanish teacher in the British School of Buenos Aires. The same year he travels as a photographer to Misiones accompanying an excursion run by Leopoldo Lugones to study the Jesuit ruins. It is his first fleeting encounter with the landscape that will play such an important role in his life.
In 1904 he publishes his first entirely narrative work, The crime of the other. This book contains the clear and recognised influence of Edgar Allan Poe. He buys a few hectares thirty kilometres from Resistencia to dedicate himself to cotton-growing. With few excursions to Buenos Aires and Salto he passes nearly two years in the Chaco scrub region and he goes completely bankrupt. He was accompanied in this venture by Ernesto de las Muñecas and occasionally José Hasda, two friends from Salto.
Buenos Aires-Misiones-Buenos Aires
In October 1905 he returns to Buenos Aires and begins his association with the primary journalistic media of Buenos Aires: the paper The Nation and the magazine Faces and Masks. He takes up teaching again in 1906 but this time in the Normal School. That same year he buys 185 hectares in Misiones, near to San Ignacio. There he found the landscape that would define his life and his work. The establishment starts to develop according to extensive plans. He builds a bungalow and takes sightseeing excursions along the Paraná. He can still say that he lives in Buenos Aires, where his success starts to grow. In 1908 an important editor publishes his novella The persecuted and his novel Story of a turbulent love. Both works pay tribute to his admired Dostoyevsky. But it is in the media where the most original and definitive examples of his talent start to be seen. In the same year 1908 one of his definitive texts, Sunstroke, appears. His literary language has come of age. His visits to Misiones and his publications in the magazines of Buenos Aires become more frequent. In 1909 he marries Ana María Cirés, one of his pupils from the Normal School and they go to live in Misiones. The bungalow becomes a house. Quiroga practices all of his arts and skills, he is the mason-carpenter, the gardener, farmer, he sews and hunts. His inventive impulses start to appear in all guises: a machine to kill ants, a peanut grinder, an orange distiller, brass mosaics, charcoal, rubber extraction and the most work, the slow transformation of the hard plateau where he had made his house into a place of trees and flowers. The birth of his two sons, Eglé in 1911 and Darío in 1912 is, without doubt, the culmination of this man who kept developing in every aspect. He builds a canoe and his surroundings are always a direct result of his own effort.
But tragedy lay ahead. Ana María Cirés, doubtless too much of a city girl to cope with the rigours of that frugal life, suffers frequent periods of depression and commits suicide in November 1915. The big push for an intense life had finished. At the end of 1916 he returns to Buenos Aires. He rents a basement in Canning Street, number 164. He starts to lead a life of literary relations although whenever he gets the opportunity he returns to his house in Misiones. In 1919 he rents an apartment in Agüero Street. His Salteñan friends intervene to alleviate his difficult economic situation and manage to find him a job in the Uruguayan General Consulate in Argentina. He will slowly start to “build a career” although in his work he may seem like the character in his story The incense ceiling.
Intellectually, the man who arrives in Buenos Aires is the respected writer. He seals the success of his magazine appearances with the publication of Tales of love of madness and of death. A period of importance and recognition begins, which will last nearly a decade. Successful books follow: Tales of the forest for children, The savage, Anaconda, The desert, The exiles. He feels capable of trying out other genres as well and he writes a version of A season of love for the stage, which he entitles The sacrificed women. His form and his fondness for the forest lend him a recognisable profile. His literary friendships multiply. He forms a literary circle, “Anaconda”, which is attended by, amongst others, Alfonsina Storni, Emilia Bertolé, Centurión, Petrone, the recitor Berta Singerman.
But Misiones is always present. He returns in 1925 on a long sabbatical he requests from the Consulate. There he lives the experience of the return to the forest and a love that will appear in his novel Love gone by.
The following year he returns to Buenos Aires and rents a farmhouse in Vicente López. In 1927 he marries Maria Elena Bravo and the following year a daughter is born, taking her mother’s name but nicknamed Pitoca.
Second and last move to Misiones
The magazine South reigns within the intellectual scene of Buenos Aires and it ignores Quiroga on an Olympic scale. It is run by fanatics of the Spanish Ultraist movement, admirers of Ricardo Güiraldes. Quiroga feels the aggression of the silence and writes a significant text, Before the tribunal, in which he reaffirms his theory and practice of the short story. Literature loses ground before other urgent concerns. Moreover, he feels that he has already achieved all he can.
As nothing now interests him more than becoming one with nature, with its authenticity and mystery, he returns to Misiones in 1932, doubtless feeling that it would be a definitive move. He is once again the Homo-Faber. The man who strives from his plateau, to bring the greatest comforts to his home, which is finally equipped with a water tank. The potter and the carpenter return. He manages the reservoir, binds, ploughs the earth. Most of all, Quiroga’s last years continue as those of a nature lover, but the hunter gives way to the florist and nothing is more important to him than the acclimatisation of plants. Moreover, they are orchids. He publishes his last book, Beyond, in 1935, bringing together texts from previous years. He hardly ever writes anymore. “I feel as content weeding as writing stories,” he writes to Martínez Estrada on the 22nd of July 1936. He starts to experience symptoms of a prostate condition.
Marital problems cause his wife to return to Buenos Aires in 1936. María Elena left and Pitoca left: “I am more alone than a cat,” he would confide to ………
His illness compels him to travel to Buenos Aires in September 1936 and he is admitted into the Clinic Hospital. The unspoken diagnosis, prostate cancer. His operation is postponed. He finds out and develops a cruel determination. On the 18th of February he goes out to visit some friends and Eglé, he buys cyanide. Horacio Quiroga dies of cyanide poisoning in the early hours of the 19th of February 1937. The wake is carried out in the Argentinean Writers’ Society. His ashes rest in a carob-wood urn crafted by the sculptor Stefan Eriza. The urn is kept in Quiroga House (Cultural Centre, Auditorium, Museum and Mausoleum), in Salto.
Tales of love of madness and of death
The slow conception of a book
From 1906 (The suicidal ships) until 1914 (The mensu) the stories that would make up Tales of love of madness and of death appeared in Brother Mocho and Faces and Masks. Only one went directly into the book, Meningitis and its shadow. These texts are part of the their author’s creative activity in those years. Many others from the same period remained only in the printed press and other texts were included in later books. This shows that the immediate audience were magazine readers, with whom he thus established a direct link. Quiroga was a writer who wrote for the media and developed an awareness of the value of intellectual work, which lead him to be one of the most fervent promoters of the author’s rights in all meanings of the word.
The slow development of Tales of love of madness and of death was not only due to the assimilation of themes but also of form. Madness was a theme that captured him from his first book of short stories, The crime of the other. But at that time it was a literary theme originating from Edgar A. Poe and little more. In the same way he paid tribute to his admiration for the Russian novelist Fedor Dostoyevsky, in The persecuted. In comparison with those first brushes with the theme of madness, the presentation of the theme is much more authentic in The hermit, The slaughtered hen and The feather pillow.
Fifteen stories make up the version the author deems as definitive of Tales of love of madness and of death. For the first time he gives this book a structure that respects the alternation of “stories of every colour”, as the author called them.
Tales of love of madness and of death is the book that is most identified with Horacio Quiroga’s narrative work as a whole, in as much as it classifies and qualifies the texts respecting their principal themes. It does this with the author’s clever decision to not include commas in the title. More than classification, which he never stops developing, the omission of conjunctions suggests that within the text various intensities and distinctions of love, of madness and of death coexist. The same thing occurs in A season of love – love in Nébel and Lidia, madness and death in Lidia’s mother; sickening love in The death of Isolde; love and death in The hermit; madness and death in The suicidal ships. Perhaps the most celebrated stories in the book, Adrift and Sunstroke are those that can demonstrate a clearer adherence to the one of these classifying levels: they are tales of death, without any other possible focus and Wild honey and Yaguaí do not have the characteristics of the former stories. The thorn fence and The beam fishermen are two texts that escape from that easy trilogy, and they are forceful stories that anticipate those of the book The exiles, in the same way that The mensu is a clear example of the author’s proximity to the narrative of the earth. Other stories in which love, madness and death are extensively linked are The slaughtered hen and The feather pillow, the most memorable stories. Our first cigar escapes these three classifying themes and Meningitis and its shadow, despite the air of sickness is presented as a tale of love, and as such, it suffers the author’s inability to maintain the required objective stance that he proclaims should be held by a story’s narrator.
The success of Tales of love of madness and of death was immediate and has lasted through the years.