Authors: José Donoso

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Chilean novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Coronación, 1957 (Coronation, 1965)

Este domingo, 1965 (This Sunday, 1967)

El lugar sin límites, 1966 (Hell Has No Limits, 1972)

El obsceno pájaro de la noche, 1970 (The Obscene Bird of Night, 1973)

Tres novelitas burguesas, 1973 (novellas; Sacred Families, 1977)

Casa de campo, 1978 (A House in the Country, 1984)

La misteriosa desaparición de la Marquesita de Loria, 1980

El jardín de al lado, 1981 (The Garden Next Door, 1992)

Cuatro para Delfina, 1982

La desesperanza, 1986 (Curfew, 1988)

Taratuta; Naturaleza muerta con cachimba, 1990 (novellas; “Taratuta” and “Still Life with Pipe,” 1993)

Dondo van a morir los elefantes, 1995

El mocho, 1997

Short Fiction:

Veraneo, y otros cuentos, 1955

Dos cuentos, 1956

El Charlestón, 1960 (Charleston, and Other Stories, 1977)

Los mejores cuentos de José Donoso, 1965

Cuentos, 1971

Seis cuentos para ganar, 1985


Sueños de mala muerte, pb. 1985

Este domingo: Versión teatral de la novela homónima, pb. 1990 (with Carlos Cerda)


Poemas de un novelista, 1981


Historia personal del “boom,” 1972 (The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History, 1977)


José Donoso (doh-NOH-soh), one of Chile’s leading novelists, is an eminent figure within the Latin American renaissance as well as within contemporary fiction in general. He was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1924. His childhood home, a decaying but still elegant mansion, filled with the many servants and relatives of his father’s wealthy and bedridden great-aunts, provided him with inspiration for insightful portrayals of the Chilean bourgeoisie and its servants. His father, a physician, seems to have been more dedicated to playing cards and horse racing than to the rigors of dealing with the ill. His dramatic household situation allowed the young Donoso to develop a penchant for art and literature, costumes, the servants’ and aunts’ stories, and the spirit of the nineteenth century, elements which can be noted in the narrative richness of his two masterpieces, The Obscene Bird of Night and A House in the Country. The insanity and eccentricity of his maternal grandmother inspired the female protagonist of his first novel, Coronation. His mother’s intrepid nouveau-riche family and her carnivalesque approach to religion (she had a fascination with witchcraft and costumes) influenced Donoso’s grotesque and fantastical descriptions. All three of these novels, along with This Sunday, capture his childhood activities and games, and the latter portrays the charities of his lovable and theatrical mother.{$I[AN]9810001238}{$I[A]Donoso, José}{$S[A]Yañez, José Donoso;Donoso, José}{$I[geo]CHILE;Donoso, José}{$I[tim]1924;Donoso, José}

Donoso attended English schools, becoming progressively more averse to the collective experience of sports and other group activities. This feeling of being an outsider led him to rebellious pastimes, such as talking to derelicts and living as a shepherd on the pampa of Punta Arenas. An admiration of the charmed circle and a sense of exclusion are important themes of The Obscene Bird of Night and Sacred Families. When he began his studies at the university in Santiago, he realized that he had read more English literature than his teachers, and in 1949 he received a scholarship to attend Princeton University. There he discovered Henry James, one of Donoso’s most important literary influences, particularly in the early works.

Donoso’s first serious literary endeavor was the submission two years after his return to Chile of a story, “China” (1954), to what became a much discussed anthology in Chile. In 1955 Donoso published his first collection of stories, Veraneo, y otros cuentos (summer vacation, and other stories), with money and aid from his family and friends. His literary career launched, he quit his job as a teacher in order to write his first novel, which became very popular in Chile. Through travels and literary friendships with Latin American writers such as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, Donoso became aware of the exciting developments in the Latin American novel and became one of the members of the famous “boom” generation in the 1960’s. During that period he married María Pilar Serrano, an artist, a fellow Chilean and, coincidentally, a former pupil of Donoso’s own governess from years before.

After sojourns in Mexico, Iowa, and Spain, Donoso returned to Chile in 1980, in part to recuperate his roots and the spoken language so crucial to his literature. Parallel to an increasing participation in the political fate of Chile under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Donoso wrote another acclaimed novel in 1986, Curfew. It deals with contemporary Chile, political activism and despair, centering on the funeral of Pablo Neruda’s widow. The two novellas in “Taratuta” and “Still Life with Pipe” demonstrate his continued interest in the construction of identity and the process of artistic creation.

Although many of his themes remain constant, Donoso’s narratives show a great range of styles. The earlier realistic depiction in Donoso’s work is in contrast with the surrealistic style of Sacred Families, the self-conscious style and nineteenth century narrator of A House in the Country, and the return to realism and a real love story in Curfew. The loving and honest examination of Chile valiantly struggling with a reign of terror under Pinochet makes the latter novel one of the most perceptive and lyrical about contemporary Chile. His juxtaposition of reality and fiction, concern for social circumstances, powerful portrayal of characters’ anguish, and masterful narrative and linguistic structures make Donoso one of the most original and interesting novelists of his time. In 1990 his native country recognized his achievements, awarding Donoso the Chilean Premio National de Literatura.

BibliographyCallan, Richard J. Jung, Alchemy, and José Donoso’s Novel “El obsceno pájaro de la noche.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. Discusses themes of imprisonment and disguise in the context of Jungian analytical psychology.Carbajal, Brent J. The Veracity of Disguise in Selected Works of José Donoso: Illusory Deception. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. Discusses Donoso’s use of masks, both literal and metaphorical, in his works.Finnegan, Pamela May. The Tension of Paradox: José Donoso’s “The Obscene Bird of Night” as Spiritual Exercises. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992. Finnegan examines the novel as an expression of man’s estrangement from the world. A difficult but rewarding study for advanced students. Includes a bibliography.González Mandri, Flora. José Donoso’s House of Fiction: A Dramatic Construction of Time and Place. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Focuses on Donoso’s incorporation of masks and houses in his fiction, the latter implicating allusions to Henry James. Although the study is chiefly of the novels, it includes searching attention to the short story “Santelices” and the novella Taratuta.King, Sarah E. The Magical and the Monstrous: Two Faces of the Child-Figure in the Fiction of Julio Cortázar and José Donoso. New York: Garland, 1992. Informative, although the short citations in Spanish are not translated into English. Despite the minor obstacles for the non-Spanish reader, this comparative study of two figures of the Spanish American “boom” is valuable.McMurray, George R. Authorizing Fictions: José Donoso’s “Casa de Campo.” London: Tamesis Books, 1992. Chapters on Donoso’s handling of voice and time, his narrative strategies (re-presenting characters), and his use of interior duplication and distortion. Includes a bibliography.McMurray, George R. José Donoso. Boston: Twayne, 1979. An excellent introductory study, with chapters on Donoso’s biography, his short stories, The Obscene Bird of Night, and Sacred Families. Includes chronology, detailed notes, and annotated bibliography.Magnarelli, Sharon. Understanding José Donoso. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. Thoroughgoing study of Donoso’s works. The second chapter is given over to the short stories, with lengthy analyses of “The Walk” (“one of Donoso’s most superbly crafted stories”) and “Santelices,” a story leading the writer to consider that artistic imagination may be the original sin. Chapter 7 analyzes the novellas of Sacred Families, calling special attention to the semiotics of the trilogy.Mandri, Flora. José Donoso’s House of Fiction: A Dramatic Construction of Time and Place. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Chapters on all of Donoso’s major fiction, exploring his treatment of history and of place. Includes detailed notes and extensive bibliography.
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