Last reviewed: June 2018
January 17, 1875
November 7, 1910
Florencio Sánchez was born in 1875, the first of eleven children of a middle-class family. His father’s political activities kept the family on the move and prevented the children from receiving much of a formal education. As a young man Sánchez worked as a secretary and in various jobs on newspapers. His first play was written for the entertainment of a club of political protesters to which he belonged. His second attempt was censored by city officials of Rosario, where he was a newspaper reporter, but when its performance was prevented, he worked all night setting it in type and had it ready for the public to read the next morning. He rewrote his first play as a musical comedy, Canillita, which takes its title from its newsboy hero. The success of the play put that word into the Argentine language as a nickname for all newsboys. Florencio Sánchez.
In 1903 Sánchez wrote his first important play, My Son, the Lawyer. During the six years following the success of this tragedy he produced a total of twenty plays, eight long dramas and twelve one-act sketches. He wrote rapidly, often on telegraph blanks, and did his best work in noisy bars and in crowds. He reportedly declared that he needed only one day to complete the four-act The Foreign Girl, called by one critic “the tragedy of the Argentine race.” Critics have pointed out certain technical flaws, but the emotions of the play and the realistic pictures of people and life on the pampas made it Sánchez’s most popular play. Technically better is Retrogression (sometimes called Down the Ravine), the tragedy of a good gaucho driven to despair and suicide by the unworthy and nagging women about him. Sánchez usually shows neither interest in nor sympathy with the women of his plays, who serve merely to develop his ideas and story.
From 1905 on Sánchez turned his attention to the city and wrote nine plays about the lower classes and five tragedies about the middle and upper classes. These works are characterized by realistic treatment that tends toward naturalism. Sánchez was no follower of Émile Zola, however; he saw a tragic fatality of character and circumstance, but he also had sympathy for his creations as the victims of the society in which they live. In his wishing to make them over, he showed similarity with Henrik Ibsen, thereby gaining his nickname, “El Ibsen criollo.”
Once he dominated the Argentine and Uruguayan theater, Sánchez longed for a hearing in Europe. Several of his plays had already been translated and played in Italian. In 1909 he persuaded his government to send him to Italy, but soon after arriving there he contracted tuberculosis. On November 7, 1910, the dramatist who had helped introduce realism into the theater of the River Plate died and was buried in Milan. In 1921 the Uruguayan government brought home the ashes of its most distinguished playwright.
Sánchez’s writing is uneven, and some of his situations trite and weak. His lasting contribution, however, is that he inspired writers in his own land, and his many good qualities have made his theater a cultural heritage of the River Plate region.