Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina’s most influential writer, died in Geneva on 14th June 1986. To mark the 30th anniversary of his death, this blog-post features a 24-page gem of a publication by the author, which is part of Gilbert de Botton’s Montaigne Library, donated to the UL in 2008. Borges was one of the 20th century’s most prominent authors and intellectuals, and wrote essays, poetry and short-stories that have since become classics. He was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature for 30 years, but never won it, allegedly due to his conservative views.

The University Library holds a vast number of books by and on J.L. Borges, the oldest of these being a 1928 first edition of El idioma de los argentinos (1995.8.3760). The item we are highlighting here, however, is a beautifully printed 1957 volume entitled Montaigne, Walt Whitman (Montaigne.3.4.520): a short essay on these two authors that compares them as supreme writers of the self (it can be also found in the third volume of Textos recobrados: 744:35.c.95.490-492). The book, number 41 in a 120 print run, was published as a Christmas present to friends and family by a quite remarkable figure in the 20th century Argentine intellectual world: Federico Vogelius. He was an engineer, lawyer, entrepreneur, publisher, patron and art and book collector, who in 1973 funded the magazine Crisis (see 676:2.c.200.246; this project would later become the reason for his 4 years imprisonment under the military government in 1976), directed by Eduardo Galeano.

Borges and Vogelius were very good friends, and apparently Vogelius was willing to publish his works when no one else would during the Perón years (Borges openly opposed Perón and consequently abandoned his position as a librarian in 1946, when he was humiliatingly transferred to the role of “Inspector of the Poultry Markets” by the government). Borges would say of his friendship with Vogelius that it was one of his life’s good habits. The colophon states the book was printed at the home of Francisco A. Colombo, possibly Argentina’s most outstanding graphic artist. The only two other institutions in Europe that hold a copy of this work are the British Library and the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Clara Panozzo

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